Benjamin Franklin was born to a soap and candle maker in 1706, the fifteenth of his father’s sixteen children. The street on which his house stood was likely named for the milk market that occupied the area after 1709, though some have argued that it took its name from John Milk, a Boston shipbuilder. The house’s exact location has been in dispute, as a fire destroyed the original structure in 1811. Franklin himself claimed to have been born at the corner of Hanover and Union Streets, though public records show that his father was a tenant of 17 Milk Street until 1712. At that time, the family moved to the Hanover Street house to be closer to Josiah Franklin’s soap and candle shop. Today, the building at 1 Milk Street—across from the Old South Meeting House, where Franklin was baptized—occupies what would have been the Franklin residence. The façade bears a bust and the words “Birthplace of Franklin,” just above the second story windows.
Benjamin Franklin learned to read at an early age, but was forced to drop out of the Boston Latin School at only ten years old to work in his father’s shop. Shortly thereafter, however, he was apprenticed to his brother, a printmaker, who would go on to found The New-England Courant, the first independent newspaper in the US. After being refused space in the paper, Franklin adopted the pseudonym Mrs. Silence Dogood, writing letters to the editor that were both humorous and cutting. Though his letters were popular in Boston, they were also controversial; Franklin’s brother was jailed for refusing to reveal Mrs. Dogood’s identity.
Franklin left Boston at age seventeen, moving to Philadelphia. There, he continued to work in newspapers and as a typesetter. He would go on, however, to be the most successful newspaper editor in the states, to serve as the first US ambassador to France, to pioneer the study of electricity and oceanography, and to help author the Declaration of Independence. To honor his achievements, his face appears on the $100 bill.