comes to mind when you think of the legacy of Benjamin Franklin?
He left the world richer through his contributions as a
statesman, author, printer, inventor, scientist, musician,
and philosopher. (See the book review of
by Edmund S. Morgan, p. 33.) But did you know that his Last
Will and Testament contained a legacy that produced millions
of dollars for charitable causes, and continues to do so
to this day?
The majority of his estate went to his
daughter and other family members. However, in a codicil
to his will (
noted that he attributed his success in life to the support
he received as a young artisan in Philadelphia and Boston.
Wanting to repay that civic debt and invest in the society’s
future—and knowing the value of combining cash, time,
and interest—Franklin set aside 2000 pounds sterling
to be invested at interest and held in trust for the benefit
of the citizens of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts—for
two hundred years
(from the time of his death in
1791 until the fund’s maturity in 1991).
Franklin understood that over the course
of time, circumstances would change. He tried to anticipate
various conditions, but realized he couldn’t cover
everything that might happen. So he left certain decisions
to the people who administered the trust after his death.
Over the decades, a variety of managers interpreted Franklin’s
wishes, and at times, those decisions have been heavily
contested. Nonetheless, Franklin’s bequest generated
millions for his favored causes, with some of those original
remaining funds now reinvested to continue the legacy. In
Boston, the $100,000 reinvested at the end of the first
hundred years grew to $5 million at the end of the second
hundred years. In Philadelphia, the $39,274 reinvested at
the end of the first hundred years grew to $2,256,952.05
by the end of the second hundred years.
Beneficiaries of the original fund—
grown large over time and managed with creative response
to the needs of the times—have included schools, businesses,
museums, and public service organizations. As one example,
Franklin wished to help young apprentices. What to do with
the designated funds when career training no longer included
apprenticeship? Trustees founded the Benjamin Franklin Institute
of Technology. That namesake school has offered training
opportunities to more than 80,000 people, and Franklin might
be amazed to know that many of them are women.
Although many prefer to fund high-impact
projects now, rather than later, Benjamin Franklin’s
foresight is an outstanding example of the bang for the
buck that long-range planning can deliver.
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