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Benjamin Franklin’s Fake News

Partners' Network Blog

The venerable Benjamin Franklin was a trickster who also liked a good joke.  He also was pretty good at self-promotion and knew how to use the media to his advantage.

The venerable Benjamin Franklin was a trickster who also liked a good joke.  He also was pretty good at self-promotion and knew how to use the media to his advantage.

Almanacs were big sellers when he was a young printer/entrepreneur.  In 1733 at age 27 he decided to publish his own almanac, but he needed an angel to differentiate his from the others and also to get attention since he was the new guy on the street.  He invented the author, Richard Saunders, and named it Poor Richard’s Almanac.  In his introductory column, he made reference to the bestselling almanac published by Mr. Titan Leeds and that there appeared to be an opportunity for his new almanac since Mr. Leeds will die, based on his calculations, on October 17, 1733, at 3:29 pm.  He further said that Mr. Leeds own calculations place the date of his death 9 days later, but Poor Richard thought his calculations were the more exact. However, it really didn’t matter that much because later in the year all will know for certain.

Leeds responded in the preface of his 1734 almanac calling the predictions untrue, false and the folly and ignorance of a presumptuous author and someone who has usurped the knowledge of the Almighty manifesting himself as a Fool and Lyar.  The proof being that he still lives, and he has the better product having been started in 1687 by his father and continuously since then to general satisfaction.

In Franklin’s preface to his 1734 almanac, he said he believes Leeds died since his calculations cannot be wrong.  He further wrote that it must so since Leeds’ 1734 almanac calls Franklin a false predicter, an ignorant, a conceited Scribler, a Fool, and a Lyar and he knows that Mr. Leeds was too well-bred to call a man so indecently and scurrilously, particularly since his Esteem and Affection for Franklin was extraordinary, and therefore someone else must have written that preface, or perhaps Leeds’ ghost.

Franklin continued this tactic until his 1740 almanac [Leeds died in 1738]. Meanwhile Poor Richard’s Almanac was published for 25 years until 1758 and became the largest selling book, except for the Bible, in the Colonies with 10,000 copies a year being sold.

Franklin has also been known to use many pseudonyms including the widow Silence Dogood when he was just 16 perhaps making Franklin an early proponent of women’s rights and freedom of expression. Titan Leeds’ father Daniel who started the almanac also was responsible for the growth of the legend of the “Leeds Devil” which eventually became the “Jersey Devil.”  You can look that up yourself as well as more details of Franklin’s shenanigans about Leeds “death.”

Well, it seems fake news is not that much of a modern invention.  Enjoy!

Do not hesitate to contact me with any business or financial questions at emendlowitz@withum.com or fill out the form below.

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