Painting of Benjamin Franklin, by J.S. Duplessis (1725-1802), Lantern Slide, 1911

Historical Context
Benjamin Franklin is one of the most famous men in American history.  Born in 1706, he participated in the events that led to the American Revolution and the birth of the United States.  Franklin was the only person to have signed all three of the major documents that helped to establish the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris, and the Constitution of the United States.

Although Franklin may be best known as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, he is also famous for his accomplishments in a variety of different fields.  Franklin was a successful printer and writer and an enthusiastic inventor and scientist.  He also founded a number of important institutions, including the first lending library in the United States, the American Philosophical Society, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Hospital.  In all, Franklin was an extroardinary man whose life and accomplishments extend far beyond what can be summarized in a single page.
Essential Question
How do individuals influence the development of a society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the individual in the portrait and evaluate the impact of Benjamin Franklin's life on the development of American society.
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Benjamin Franklin - Portrait of Benjamin Franklin, New York State Archives, NYSA_A3045-78_377
Document Description
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin. From a painting by J.S. Duplessis (1725-1802). Lantern slide created in 1911.
  1. How old do you think Benjamin Franklin is in this portrait?
  2. How old was Franklin when he died?
  3. Does he look like a person who lives in modern times?  Explain.
  4. Why would a portrait be painted of Benjamin Franklin?  What types of people do you think had their portraits painted in the 1700s?
  5. Is it easier to paint a portrait of someone or to take their photograph?
  6. Do you think more people have their photographs taken today than had portraits painted in Benjamin Franklin's time?  Why?
Historical Challenge
What did Benjamin Franklin think about slavery?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Art: Explore the artwork of J.S. Duplessis
Science: What were some of Benjamin Franklin's inventions and scientific discoveries?
English Language Arts: Choose what you think are Benjamin Franklin’s five biggest accomplishments and write a persuasive essay explaining why they are more significant than others.
  1. Adler, David. B. Franklin: Printer. New York: Holiday House, 2001. ISBN: 0823416755
  2. Fleming, Candace. Ben Franklin's Almanac: Being a True Account of the Good Gentleman's Life. New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003. ISBN: 0689835493

  3. Giblin, James. The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Scholastic, 2000. ISBN: 0590485342
  4. Harness, Cheryl. The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2005. ISBN: 0792278828