Creator / Benjamin Franklin
aka: Ben Franklin

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/ben_franklin.jpg
It's all about the Benjamin, baby!

"I think opinions should be judged by their influences and effects; and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded that he holds none that are dangerous, which I hope is the case with me."

Genius, millionaire, playboy, philanthropist. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Tony Stark of The American Revolution.

Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706†  – April 17, 1790) was a printer, author, scientist, musician, inventor, diplomat, ladies' man, revolutionary, and one of the coolest and most fascinating people in American history. Managed to make it onto The United States hundred dollar bill (and the 50-cent piece from 1948 to 1963) without being The President. Invented bifocal lenses, the Franklin stove, and the lightning rod, after proving that lightning was just electricity rather than the wrath of an angry god. If you ever take a tour anywhere in Philadelphia's historical district, you will learn that he invented pretty much everything. Even The Internet. He's probably the most famous person in American history to the rest of the world.

But he was not a President. And he did not write the Declaration of Independence (although he did edit it). And he didn't found the Ben Franklin dime store chain. As a consolation, he is the only person whose signature appears on all three founding documents of the United States of America – the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris, and the US Constitution, as well as the treaty allying France with the United States.


Tropes frequently associated with Benjamin Franklin:

  • The Alcoholic:
    • Not only did he like to drink, he had over 50 different epithets for being drunk.
    • During the American Revolution, he had a platoon of soldiers guarding him whenever he went out drinking, not because of his safety, but rather because the other Founding Fathers were afraid he would leak military secrets during his binges.
  • Age Lift:
    • An inversion. Paintings of the kite experiment traditionally depict William Franklin, who helped his father, as a prepubescent child. In reality, William was about twenty years old at the time.
    • Modern works tend to play it straight, showing him at his best-known appearance.
  • Authors of Quote: One of the most quotable writers in the history of America, and in the English Language.
    • In his lifetime, one of his quotes became a Memetic Mutation in France, the famous Angry Mob Song, "Ah ça ira". This came when Franklin was constantly asked by Frenchmen how the American Revolution was going, he kept saying in broken French, "ça ira" which means "It's happening/it's going well/it's still on". Later a street singer set that to song.
    • Poor Richard's Almanac is still popular in the 20 and 21st century.
  • Badass Family:
    • One of Franklin's descendants is actor Jack Coleman, a.k.a. HRG from Heroes. In this case, the badassery was apparently In the Blood.
    • His son William led a guerrilla force of Loyalists against the Patriots, making him an Antagonistic Offspring.
    • Peter Folger, Franklin's maternal grandfather, was a court clerk who was once jailed for disobeying a local magistrate while defending middle class people against wealthy landowners. He would be a big inspiration to his grandson Benjamin.
  • Bald of Awesome: He's almost always portrayed as balding in his role as one of America's Founding Fathers and greatest of the colonial era scientists.
  • Big Fun: Ben's weight is part of what made him so endearing then and keeps him endearing now. One story goes that during a trip to Paris, a woman who knew him greeted him by pinching his belly and jokingly asking him what he would think if he saw all that weight on a woman. Ben replied, "madam, twenty minutes ago this weight was on a woman!"
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Franklin was a Dirty Old Man and liked taking naps during meetings. During his time in France he attended numerous parties and often came in late to work, which earned him the resentment of his colleague John Adams. However, this allowed him to create the informal connections that helped secure French support for The American Revolution.
  • Cool Old Guy: Not just smart, he had a wicked sense of humor.
  • Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit: Without time-travel. He bequeathed £1,000 each to the two most important cities in his life (Boston, where was born and raised, and Philadelphia, the adopted hometown where he made his name). Each fund was to be invested by giving loans to young craftsmen for a period of 200 years; each city could take 75% of the fund out after 100 years for a public-works project, and the trust would reach maturity and be given over entirely to the city after 200 years. The Boston fund, when opened, was enough establish a large trade school after the first 100 years; the Philadelphia fund was used to fund scholarships to local high school students at maturity in the 1990s.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Not Ben himself, but the practice that he brutally parodies in "The Art of Saying Little In Much", without saying much of anything himself. He does this by quoting "the Petition of Dermond O Folivey, an Attorney of the Kingdom of Ireland", the most unbelievably ridiculously redundant thing ever written.
  • Dirty Old Man:
    • Read his Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress.
    • He left his wife in America while he traveled Europe serving as an ambassador etc., and never returned to her even when he heard she was dying. Sources indicate that he had wanted her to come with him and asked her to many times, but she was afraid of travel by water. All the same, being a prolific adulterer – probably even while his wife was on her death-bed – is a bit of a blight on his record.
  • Eccentric Mentor: He was the oldest of the Founding Fathers, and respected for both his brilliance and his witty humor.
  • Eagle Land: Ben was a patriotic yet humble self-made man, reflecting the traditional American ideal.
  • Gallows Humor:
    • One of his most famous quotes, referring to the Revolution, was "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." A rather literal use of gallows humor indeed.
    • There's also the ever-infamous "Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead."
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Franklin decided that if America was going to win France's support in the Revolutionary War, he would have to play the part of the charming, hard-partying ladies' man in order to forge informal bonds with the French court, while the grumpier, business-minded John Adams went about putting pressure on the French court to side with America. Adams apparently disagreed and thought they should both be pressuring the French, but Franklin continued doing things this way. It should come as no surprise that when Adams received a commission to be Minister to the equally businesslike Dutch, he preferred it mightily.
  • I Have No Son: His son William, born when his father was about 24 (the exact date is unknown). William was a Loyalist who supported the British Crown; he served as the last royal governor of New Jersey until he was forcibly deposed in early 1776. After spending a couple of years in prison William escaped to British-held New York and eventually settled in London. Benjamin Franklin could not get past this. Franklin ignored a letter that William sent him in 1784 in an attempt at reconciliation and never made any other communication with him. He only met William once after the Revolution, a brief meeting in London in 1785 to settle up business affairs. In Franklin's will he left William some land in Nova Scotia and nothing else, adding that if the British had won as William hoped, Franklin would have had nothing to leave him.
  • Information Wants to Be Free: He intentionally never patented any of his inventions so people could use them for free.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: He's the one credited with saying, "There are only two certainties in life, death and taxes."
  • I Was Quite a Looker: While we're mostly familiar with Franklin the overweight Dirty Old Man, he wasn't always that way. Printers regularly had to carry large, heavy trays of lead type, and Franklin in particular was very health-conscious in his youth (he was particularly partial to swimming), and as a result the young Franklin was quite fit and rather buff.
  • Kavorka Man:
    • Despite being elderly, balding, wearing glasses, and having neither money nor aristocratic title, he apparently cut quite a wide swath through the ladies of Paris when sent there as American Ambassador (and did pretty well on his home turf too). It was said of Franklin that, when he returned from his post in France, he had every venereal disease known to medicine, at the same time.
    • This was certainly averted in his youth, where he was just as much of a Casanova. He was apparently handsome and lifted weights to improve both his strength (which he needed as a printer's apprentice and then a printer—cases of lead type are heavy) and appearance (makes sense, given his whole self-improvement schtick). Presumably, he gained enough experience with the ladies that he no longer needed to rely on his looks.
  • Likes Older Women: Preferred older women for their intelligence, often independent means, and *ahem* "experience".
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: He was the 15th of his father's 17 children.note 
  • My God, What Have I Done?: He felt this way about slavery toward the end of his life. He initially used his wealth to buy slaves, and Poor Richard's Almanac had advertisements for the slave trade. He started having a change of heart around 1762, however, and by 1770 he had freed all of his slaves, and his distaste for slavery grew with age. In the last few years of his life, Franklin was president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society (America's first society calling for slavery to end) and three months before his death he petitioned Congress to ban the slave trade and free all the slaves in the country, the latter an idea well ahead of its time.
  • Noble Bird of Prey: Notably, Franklin was not a believer in this trope and he went on a bit of a rant about it in a letter to his daughter, where he commented that he thought the choice of the Bald Eagle as a part of the national symbolism was a rather poor one, as he saw it as "Bird of bad moral Character", referring firstly to its feeding habits as a lazy scavenger would rather rob other birds of their fish instead of catching its own, and secondly to its behavior as a "rank coward" in general as it would allow smaller birds, such as the kingbird, to bully and chase it away, which he thought made an unbecoming symbol for a nation that had bravely stood up to its own presumed king and chased him away.
  • Non-Idle Rich: His will specifically lists no less than nine houses, over ten thousand pounds of specific distributions of cash and cash-denominated assets (worth in excess of a million pounds in today's money, taking inflation into account), three thousand acres of land he was granted in Georgia, additional land holdings near the Ohio river and in Philadelphia, and two different businesses (both a printshop adjacent to his home and a type foundry elsewhere). That's a lot of money and assets, and that's after he had largely retired from business over 40 years before. And his bifocals were, at the very least, a great conversation piece, since he invented the things.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist:
    • One of the last true Renaissance Men, he studied practically everything, and made significant contributions to several widely disparate fields of study.
    • In one man, he was the reason why British society started to realise that the American colonies could produce great men of their own.
    • A partial list of things Franklin invented: the lightning rod, the Franklin stove (which in slightly modified form became the modern fireplace), bifocals, and the urinary catheter. Things he studied: the Gulf Stream (which he charted and named), the principle of cooling by evaporation, population growth (he was a major influence on Thomas Malthus), and of course his research into the nature of electricity, which included not only the nature of lightning but the idea of electrical charge (he created "positive" and "negative" as descriptions of the two types of charge) and the concept of conservation of charge, which he originated. Renaissance Man, indeed.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: In France on his and Adams's mission to secure French support for the American Revolution, he was mellow and easy-going compared to John Adams's fiery, hot-tempered disposition.
  • Renaissance Man: Business owner, diplomat, inventor, scientist, writer, athlete… What didn't he do?
  • Self-Deprecation: In contrast with most of the other Founding Fathers, Ben was known to paint a less than ideal picture of his character in his writings about himself.
  • Self-Made Man: He was one, and very proud of it. He also used Poor Richard's Almanack as a way to spread his words of wisdom and urge other Americans to also make themselves into this trope. To this day, American schoolchildren in the youngest grades are often given Franklin's quotes as encouragement and as a good example of how to push oneself towards self improvement.
  • Serious Business: The fight over whether lightning conductors should be pointed or have a spherical end. It took on a political dimension after Franklin sided with the American Revolution, and so patriotic Britons adopted the other type.
  • Simple Country Lawyer
    • In France, Franklin intentionally played up the image of a plain-speaking rustic from the colonies. He would wear simple clothing (in stark contrast to the ostentatious costumes that the French nobles wore), intentionally avoided etiquette rules and social conventions, and spoke directly and simply (in contrast to the flowery and loquacious jargon that French politics used). Most importantly, while he played rustic, he never played dumb; in his free time, he wowed the aristocracy with demonstrations of scientific experiment such as the ones dealing with electricity which were very popular. The French found him to be a breath of fresh air and loved him for it. This was also the time when the philosophy of Rousseau and Voltaire was popular, and the French found Franklin to the be perfect example of a natural but civilized man, someone with a European's brain but the untrammeled heart of a noble savage.
    • Averted when Franklin went to England, where he immediately swanked it up for all he was worth. The English had enough dealings with plain Puritans to be unimpressed with that rustic act.
  • The Smart Guy: Respected even among the American Founders, dyed-in-the-wool intellectual elites almost to a man, for the breadth of his knowledge.
  • The Spymaster: While in Paris, he was this. Like every diplomat at the time he was gathering and coordinating information.
  • Vulgar Humor: Franklin's notorious essay "To the Royal Academy of Farting".
  • What Might Have Been: George Washington tried to nominate him for first president, but basically every single other Founding Father unanimously agreed Washington should take the job.note 
  • White Anglo-Saxon Protestant: His parents were Puritans and he was raised Puritan, but turned his back on organized religion in youth; however, he later regretted this as he felt that rejecting religion had made him and his friends less virtuous. He described himself as both a Deist and a Christian, and once motioned to introduce daily prayers to meetings of the Constitutional Assembly (which failed, and was never brought to vote) and his proposal for the motto of the United States was "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God" (also rejected). He doubted the divinity of Jesus, but thought his moral system was "the best the world has ever saw or is likely to see", and believed in God and supported religion in general, though he felt that it should be separate from the state (to preserve its own integrity).

Benjamin Franklin in fiction and pop culture:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 
  • According to the official backstory of Code Geass, one major divergence point between its history and ours is that Franklin betrayed Washington in return for a title of Britannian nobility and land, meaning that the United States of America never came into being. The show's immortal female lead C.C. speaks of Ben and his peaceful nature wistfully, implying that she knew him personally.

    Comic Books 

    Film 
  • Pretty much anything set during The American Revolution has to have him pop up.
  • 1776 has a singing Ben Franklin, who exemplifies the wisdom and the biting wit he's known for.
  • Appears in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, playing a game of charades with Albert Einstein, Confucius, and The Stations.
  • In the film How High, Method Man and Redman end up discovering that Franklin invented the bong. Although not historically accurate, it would explain his easygoing nature. Franklin actually owned a hemp mill, and several of the Founding Fathers grew hemp, though it was the sort used for fiber which doesn't contain much THC.
  • Back to the Future: Doc Brown keeps a portrait of Franklin in his home alongside portraits of Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Sir Isaac Newton, foreshadowing the lightning strike climax in 1955.

    Literature 
  • Ben And Me, a story told from the point of view of a cute talking mouse that lives in the walls of Ben Franklin's house. Contributed to the "key kite" myth. Later became a Disney animated short.
  • John Hodgman apparently detests Ben Franklin, if the repeated potshots taken at him throughout Complete World Knowledge is any sign.
  • A Cahill From the Lucian Branch in The 39 Clues.
  • He is a major character in the James Morrow novel "The Last Witchfinder"
  • In the first chapter of The Baroque Cycle, Enoch Root visits early 1700s Boston and encounters a child prodigy named Ben (surname not given, but clearly intended to be Franklin.)
  • America (The Book): The foreword, supposedly written by the ghost of Thomas Jefferson, claims that if crack cocaine had existed when Franklin was alive then "that boozed-up snuff machine would weigh 80 pounds and live outside the Port Authority."
  • The Age of Unreason, an Alternate History series by Gregory Keyes in which Sir Isaac Newton studied alchemy instead of physics, features a young Ben Franklin as Newton's protege.
  • In Two Crowns for America by Katherine Kurtz, a "secret history" of the Revolution, Franklin plays a supporting part in his role as a Master Mason.
  • He's a supporting character in The Year of the Hangman, an alternate history where the Americans lost to the British in 1777. He takes in the protagonist, Creighton, as an apprentice, unaware that he's a British spy. Franklin secretly publishes The Liberty Tree newspaper, and is later burned with his print shop by British soldiers.

    Live Action TV 
  • Franklin appeared as a character in the [adult swim] satire Young Persons Guide To History.
  • The key kite myth became one of the Tropes Examined By The Myth Busters. Tory also mistakenly thought Franklin was a President.
  • The supplemental materials for Heroes have Franklin as an empowered human (he could absorb electricity).
  • The Office: When Michael orders Jim to hire a male stripper for a bachelorette party, Jim calls the Scholastic Speakers of Pennsylvania and hires a Franklin impersonator. Dwight is 99% sure he's not the real one.
  • Appears in the HBO miniseries John Adams, where he is generally played as Adams' foil: witty, popular and sly, in comparison to Adams' earnest and blunt firebrand.
  • How I Met Your Mother. George Washington and Ben were friends with Barnabus Stinson (Barney's ancestor) who wrote "The Bro Code". George and Ben also once did a "Devil's Threesome".
  • An entire two-part episode of Bewitched was dedicated to praising Ben Franklin, after Aunt Clara accidentally brought him to the present.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 short "Money Talks"(which preceded "The Beast of Yucca Flats"), a shadow of Ben Franklin advises a young boy about the importance of saving money.
  • In the episode "Yes Men" of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Lorelei asks one of the thugs under her control about Franklin's picture on the $100. Of course the thug, being an idiot, thinks he was President and tells Lorelei that he was a king.
  • Ichabod Crane of Sleepy Hollow spent some time learning from Franklin. He was present for the kite experiment, which was an attempt to destroy the key.

    Music 
  • When Puff Daddy sings "It's All About the Benjamins, Baby", yes, it's this Benjamin. Franklin is the face on the American hundred dollar bill.

    Other 
  • In MAD #169, the article "A MAD History of Sex", writes: "Perhaps the greatest Sexual Figure in Revolutionary times was also known as "The Father of Our Country". His name was Benjamin Franklin. We realize some people think George Washington was the father of our country, and you may say "You don't know your history." All we can say is "You don't know your Benjamin Franklin!"
  • Plays a pretty significant part in 1776, naturally.

    Real Life 

    Web Comics 
  • This xkcd strip.
  • Ben Franklin's clone is Dr. McNinja's mentor.
  • This pictures for sad children, though his common-law wife, Deborah Read Franklin, died of a stroke while he was in England.
  • His ghost is a major character in A Girl and Her Fed. (He's close friends with an attention-deficit woman who sets people on fire, a cyborg fed, and a genetically-engineered koala supergenius.)
  • The Transylvito Moneymancer in Erfworld is named Benjamin, and he is essentially Ben Franklin. This incarnation also sports the addition of a gold chain with "100" as the symbol.
  • Thanks to Time Travel, he's a modern-day superhero in Spinnerette. He's pretty much invincible due the universe itself making sure he survives to return to the past eventually and make history what it is.
  • Franklin is one of the major artificial intelligences working for the Americans in Afterlife Blues. An oracle, or use of his full computing power on a single question, is said to be very valuable.

    Western Animation 
  • Shows up in The Fairly Oddparents when Timmy decided to do research for a report on American History the fun way, by interviewing a few Founding Fathers.
    • Also, as shown in a later episode, he somehow has the ability to control storms.
  • Liberty's Kids, which features Walter Cronkite as Benjamin Franklin, is about Franklin's newspaper and its staff of teenage reporters and apprentice printers.
  • The futuristic adventure series Spiral Zone features a Nerd Action Hero named Benjamin Franklin Davis.
  • In the Beavis And Butthead episode "Lightning Strikes", the boys are inspired by a PBS special on Franklin to imitate the "key kite" myth. Hilarity Ensues—and so does hospitalization.
  • An episode of Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? ends with a cliffhanger when Carmen travels back in time to 1752 and steals Ben Frankin's key, foiling his kite experiment and preventing the development of electronics and trapping Zack and Ivy in time.
  • He appeared in Nickelodeon's classic toon Kablam. He replaced Wesley Snipes in the Money Train sequel.
  • Even South Park treated Benjamin Franklin with respect. He appeared to save the day in "I'm A Little Bit Country", and is played by All in the Family creator Norman Lear.
  • An episode of The Simpsons. Homer thought Franklin was president.
    • Benjamin Franklin is featured in several other fantasy sequences. In one he invents the sled and in another he plays Air Hockey with Jimi Hendrix.
  • In a Family Guy cutaway about the Declaration of Independence:
    Speaker: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal...
    Benjamin Franklin: Except the Jews!
    Speaker: Franklin! For the fifth time, I'm sorry you overpaid for your house, but it's not going in!
    Benjamin Franklin: You'll be soor-ry!
  • Franklin was the featured historical figure in the Time Squad episode "Floundering Fathers." Buck, being the Dumb Muscle that he is and lacking history genius Otto's help, causes Franklin to invent the light bulb many decades ahead of Thomas Edison merely by giving him the idea.
  • Showed up in the final episode of Dilbert. It turns out the garbage man has his coffin in the truck ("You'd be amazed what people throw away") and the garbage man resurrects him with a magic potion (a second time after Dilbert tell him what's happened to the Post Office since his death), explains to Dilbert that the government of the US he helped put together was actually a practical joke, and finishes up back on the secret ruling council when they're selecting the new President. (Why Ben? Mostly because he's the Founder with the best known track record of boozing, philandering, and generally screwing around.)

    Video Games 
  • Tony Hawk's Underground 2 allows you to skate as a Ben Franklin impersonator (known only as "Ben Franklin"). His unique trick is the Franklin Grind, which has the skater be pulled along the rail by a kite (with a key tied to it, of course) as a thunderstorm sound effect plays.
  • Day of the Tentacle features Ben Franklin in the past, trying out his famous kite experiment. When a storm rolls around, he goes back inside, and Hoagie has to convince him to go back out, using the lightning to charge the battery for his Chrono-John.
  • In one edition of Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego, you and your Good Guide, Polly Tix, meet him while trying to get Declaration of Independence back from one of Carmen's crooks. Later, he helps clue you to where Carmen is going.
  • In The Simpsons Game, Benjamin Franklin attacks the heroes in heaven with a key that shoots lightning.
  • Appears as a Founding Father in Colonization.
  • Franklin appears in Assassin's Creed III. His inventions can be created by Connor to decorate his homestead with after helping him collect pages of his almanac.
  • Franklin is one of Columbia's three near-deified father figures alongside Washington and Jefferson in Bioshock Infinite.

    Web Original 


Alternative Title(s): Ben Franklin

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