Benjamin Franklin stamp, first issued in 1851 at one cent. Portrait based on a bust carved by Jean-Jacques Caffiéri. Stamp originally engraved by Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear & Co.
The first postmaster general of the United States appeared on the first stamp issued by the country. Benjamin Franklin's career, however, was much more than overseeing the movement of mail in the fledgling nation. At the age of 17, he moved to Philadelphia, where he utilized his experience as a printer's apprentice and found work as a printer. A year later, he went to England, where he became a master printer.
Back in Philadelphia in 1726, at age 20, he owned his own newspaper and later began to print Poor Richard's Almanack. His business prospered to the point where he was able to retire at age 42. In 1727 he organized a group of tradesmen as the Junto. The group then founded a library, a fire company, a college (which became the University of Pennsylvania), an insurance company, and a hospital. In 1740 Franklin invented the Pennsylvania fireplace, which later became known as the Franklin stove.
It was at this time that he did his experiments with electricity, including the fabled kite-fly during a thunderstorm. As a result of the experiments, he invented lightning rods, which quickly appeared on buildings in America and Europe. Elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1751, he began a 40-year stint as a public servant. Ever so slowly Franklin changed his view from that of not wanting separation of America from English control to the need for independence. From April 1775 to October 1776 he served on the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety and in the Continental Congress. He also submitted articles of confederation for the united colonies, proposed a new constitution for Pennsylvania, and helped draft the Declaration of Independence.
He was 70 years old when he signed the Declaration. In October 1776 he sailed for France to seek French aid for the Revolutionary War. After signing, with the other two American commissioners, the French alliance, Franklin became the first American minister to France. For seven years, then, he acted as diplomat, purchasing agent, recruiting officer, loan negotiator, admiralty court, and intelligence ... and all of this for a man over the age of 70 at that time in history! Franklin made secret contact with peace negotiators from England after the British loss at Yorktown. He proposed treaty articles near to what finally was agreed upon.
Together with John Jay, Franklin represented the United States in signing the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783. He returned to America in 1785. Though 80 years old and in declining health, he still accepted election for three years as president of Pennsylvania. At the Constitution Convention of 1787, although too weak to stand, his gift for compromise helped prevent bitter disputes among delegates. Franklin's final public pronouncements advocated the ratification of the Constitution. He died in 1790.