Ben was brought into his father's trade as a tallow chandler at age 10, but left almost immediately to take work as a cutler. At age 13 he apprenticed to his brother James in the printing business; he delivered papers, ran the presses, and composed most of the text (printed anonymously). His writing was so liberally slanted, he actually got his brother thrown in jail for a month. At the age of 17 he moved to Philadelphia and became acquainted with the governor of Pennsylvania, and was persuade by him to go to London to establish a printing business. When he arrived, however, he did not receive the letters of recommendation he needed from the governor, and ended up working for two printing companies in London for two years before returning to Philadelphia. He formed what would become the American Philosophical Society, purchased and revived the Pennsylvania Gazette, and then founded the first public library in America. He published Poor Richard's Almanack for many years, then became clerk and then deputy postmaster of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Around this time, he invented the Franklin stove, formed the first fire company in America, developed the first guidelines in America for street paving and lighting and fire prevention, and developed methods for improving paving and lighting. He formed the first anti-slavery organization in America as well. His research into electricity, in collaboration with an English friend, led to his theory that lightning was an electrical phenomenon, confirmed by others and later by himself using the famous kite experiment he proposed. He invented the lightning rod as well. In recognition of all this, he was granted honorary science degrees from both Oxford and St. Andrews, and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and was awarded its Copley medal.
In 1749 he wrote a treatise on public education, leading to the founding in 1751 of what would become the University of Pennsylvania, notable in its time for emphasizing study of modern languages (including English), math, and science as well as the classics that most universities focused on at the time. He served 14 years in the Pennsylvania Assembly, and proposed his Albany Plan which foreshadowed the constitution but was too radical for acceptance, though he thought it might have prevented the revolution. During the French And Indian War he recruited equipment for the English, but travelled to England to give testimony that would lead to the repeat of the Stamp Act. He finally became resigned to the inevitability of war and returned to Pennsylvania (after becoming acquainted with many famous Englishmen of the time). He became a member of the Second Continental Congress and was one of the five men appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence. He travelled to Canada to try to persuade the Canadians to support America in the war, then went to France to seek economic assistance. He encouraged and assisted privateers like John Paul Jones working against the British navy, then negotiated the treaty with France that turned the war around. He was one of three Americans to work on the Treaty of Paris ending the war, and became the first U.S. Ambassador to France.
Living in France, he studied the works of Franz Mesmer under appointment from the king of France, and became a dignitary of a Freemason lodge, and using its connections, encouraged liberalization of the French government (though not through violent means). He left France to work on the Constitution, then sent a petition to Congress as president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society encouraging an abolition of slavery. When he died two months later, his autobiography was unfinished, yet is considered the basis for his literary reputation.