Now I Know: How Ben Franklin Killed the Competition

To be clear in the below, Ben Franklin and Richard Saunders are the same persion. I think that's already clear from the story, but I can't tell at this point! Also, today's Now I Know is sponsored by Cluey Consumer, which invites you to "look under the hood of your favorite brands to see the impact that your household brands have on people, the planet, and politics." Learn more about them at that link or before today's Bonus Fact. -- Dan
 

How Ben Franklin Killed the Competition

In 1728, a printer named Samuel Keimer founded the Pennsylvania Gazette, the second newspaper ever printed in the colony. It did not do well, and Keimer quickly fell into debt and fled the nation. Before he left, though, he sold the paper to a young man interested in the business of printing and journalism named Ben Franklin  A year later, Franklin -- who, as you already know, would become a famous American statesman -- purchased the Gazette and took a hands-on role in writing the news of the day and, of course, opinion columns as well. The paper quickly became perhaps the most prominent one published in the British colonies in North America. Franklin became very influential as a result.

Wanting to expand his publishing empire, in 1732, Franklin concocted a new idea. On December 28th of that year, he published an announcement in the Gazette about a new publication he had acquired (or so he claimed; in fact, he was the publisher and lead author). Titled "Poor Richard's Almanack," the new periodical would not focus on the news, but rather, on other key information -- a calendar, weather predictions, probably some stuff about astrology, some poetry, etc. Written by "Richard Saunders," a pseudonym Franklin adopted, it was a smorgasbord of readables and something for everyone. But it wasn't a particularly novel idea. In fact, there was already a Philadephia-based almanac in circulation: The American Almanack, published by a man named Titan Leeds.

And Ben Franklin wasn't about to take that competition lightly.

The American Almanack was founded in 1687 by a devout Quaker named Daniel Leeds. The publication proved popular and earned the disdain of the Quakers in the area; Daniel Leeds responded by leaving them behind and, instead, satirizing them in his publication, making it even more popular in the process. When Daniel decided to retire in 1716, he turned the reins over to his son, Titan. By the time Ben Franklin/Richard Saunders got into the nix, Titan Leeds was a well-known leader in the almanac space, and one Franklin wanted to kill off. So he did, minus the murder part.

In the initial edition of Poor Richard's Almanack, published in 1733, "Richard Saunders" penned a letter to his readers explaining why he was entering the almanac business, particularly in light of the fact that an already good one was being published by Titan Leeds. Saunders explains that his motivation isn't solely for the public good -- he's poor and needs an income, Ben Franklin offered to partner with him in the endeavor. Saunders' only remaining concern was his friendship with Titan Leeds -- he didn't want to compete with his compatriot. But, Saunders continued, that wouldn't be an issue for very long (via):
Indeed this Motive would have had Force enough to have made me publish an Almanack many Years since, had it not been overpowered by my Regard for my good Friend and Fellow-Student, Mr. Titan Leeds, whose Interest I was extremely unwilling to hurt: But this Obstacle (I am far from speaking it with Pleasure) is soon to be removed, since inexorable Death, who was never known to respect Merit, has already prepared the mortal Dart, the fatal Sister has already extended her destroying Shears, and that ingenious Man must soon be taken from us. He dies, by my Calculation made at his Request, on Oct. 17, 1733, 3:29 P.M., at the very instant of the conjunction of the Sun and Mercury: By his own Calculation he will survive till the 26th of the same Month. This small difference between us we have disputed whenever we have met these 9 Years past; but at length he is inclinable to agree with my Judgment.
The writing style of the day may make that hard to understand, so, to summarize: Saunders wrote that Titan Leeds was going to die in 1733 -- and that both he and Leeds predicted it. They did have some disagreement, however; Saunders predicted that Leeds would die on October 17th, but Leeds predicted his own demise would occur on October 26th. Either way, Leeds was on the way out, and therefore, the world needed someone to write an almanac for 1734.

This was, of course, total fiction. Neither Leeds nor Saunders/Franklin had any way of predicting the former's death. Franklin was, rather, just hoping to drum up some business. In fact, his letter from Saunders continued by using the prediction as an explicit reason to buy the 1734 edition of Poor Richard's Almanack:
Which of us is most exact, a little Time will now determine. As therefore these Provinces may not longer expect to see any of his Performances after this Year, I think my self free to take up the Task, and request a share of the public Encouragement; which I am the more apt to hope for on this Account, that the Buyer of my Almanack may consider himself, not only as purchasing an useful Utensil, but as performing an Act of Charity, to his poor.
Leeds didn't die in 1734, and he used his own almanac that year to assure his readers that he was very much alive -- and, for good measure, wrote that Saunders "has usurpt the knowledge of the Almighty herein and manifested himself a Fool and a Lyar." Franklin, who hadn't yet published his almanack when Leeds' hit, replied in kind (as Saunders), writing that while he could not be sure when Leeds died, it was likely that he had. His proof? The real Titan Leeds would never use such coarse language to describe a friend, to wit: "Mr. Leeds was too well bred to use any Man so indecently and so scurrilously, and moreover his Esteem and Affection for me was extraordinary." Saunders mourned the loss of his friend and argued that the 1734 edition of the American Almanack was being written by a scoundrel who was using the good name of the now-deceased Titan Leeds to sell copies of the publication. 

Franklin carried the ruse forward for the next few years, only calling it quits in 1740. Titan Leeds actually died in 1738, and the 1739 version of his Almanack carried an obituary to their now-former published. The next year, Franklin shared the news; as the Museum of Hoaxes notes, he "congratulated the men who had usurped Leeds’s name for finally deciding to end their pretense."
Align your everyday purchases with your values. Cluey Consumer, a web platform and Chrome extension, empowers you to discover the impact your everyday purchases have on people, the planet, and politics -- and suggests alternatives that align with what you value. We know the holiday season is busy enough so they’ve done the hard work for you: Cluey helps you shop more consciously and hold brands accountable.

Visit their website to learn more.
Sponsored

Bonus fact: Daniel Leeds' impact on history continues to this day in another way -- you'll find it if you go to a hockey game in New Jersey. Daniel Leeds' descriptions of the Quakers didn't set well with his former brethren, and as NJ.com reports, "accusations of Quaker misdeeds so outraged them that they also called Leeds 'Satan’s Harbinger.' To make matters worse, Leeds supported the first royal governor of New Jersey, the infamous Lord Cornbury, a man accused of being loose with the colony’s taxes and a cross-dresser (both, we now know, slanders by anti-government pundits)." Over time, the idea of the Leeds being "Satan's Harbinger" took on a perceived physical manifestation known as the "Devil of Leeds," which later became simply the "Jersey Devil." Today, that devil is the mascot of the state's National Hockey League team.

From the Archives: Proto-TP: Why the Farmers' Almanac had a hole through it.
Like today's Now I Know? Share it with a friend -- just forward this email along.
And if someone forwarded this to you, consider signing up! Just click here.
Share Share
Tweet Tweet
Forward Forward
Archives · Privacy Policy

Copyright © 2021 Now I Know LLC, All rights reserved.
You opted in, at http://NowIKnow.com via a contest, giveaway, or the like -- or you wouldn't get this email.

Now I Know is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Some images above via Wikipedia.

Now I Know's mailing address is:
Now I Know LLC
P.O. Box 536
Mt. Kisco, NY 10549-9998

Add us to your address book


Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your email address or unsubscribe from this list

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp

Key phrases

Older messages

Now I Know: The Boy Who Shared His Wish

Monday, November 15, 2021

A story of kindness View this email in your browser · Missed one? Visit the Archives Hope you had a good weekend! -- Dan The Boy Who Shared His Wish Christopher James Greicius was a 7-year-old in

How and Why the Sausage Is Made

Friday, November 12, 2021

A story about a story about sausages. View this email in your browser · Missed an issue? Click here! How and Why the Sausage Is Made Hi! Another Friday, another Now I Know Weekender edition! As long-

Now I Know: The Price Is Fixed

Thursday, November 11, 2021

PLINKO! View this email in your browser · Missed one? Visit the Archives Today is Veterans Day and I meant to take it off, but I forgot to mention it previously, so instead, I'm sharing this (

Now I Know: The Somewhat-Fake Sausage That Saved Lives

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Auto-da-fé, what's an auto-da-fé? View this email in your browser · Missed one? Visit the Archives I know a lot about the history of kosher food... and this was still new to me when I discovered it

I hope you're enjoying Now I Know!

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

(And I hope you'll tell a friend!) View this email in your browser · Missed one? Visit the Archives Thanks For Reading! Three weeks ago -- give or take a day -- you first signed up for Now I Know.

Another sample from the archives

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Strategy Toolkit - from the July 2020 edition ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Let's keep it up! day #36

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Continuing our streak! 💪 ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Positive Accidents

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

On positive accidents, tackling life debt and powerful levers we can utilize. View in browser Positive Accidents Hi everyone, Happy belated Thanksgiving! Hope all of you enjoyed the festive cheer. This

How To Write Philosophy with Dr. Pamela Hieronymi

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The “consulting philosopher” on The Good Place shares her process for thinking and writing ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Now I Know: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Triple Sevens

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

I just watched Ghostbuster 2 last weekend and really want to make a joke about it here, but I think it'd be lost on most of you. View this email in your browser · Missed one? Visit the Archives Hi!

Hurricane Larry

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

A short one this week. I wrote this in September right after Hurricane Larry. I spent the morning trying to trim and re-write it into a spot where it felt OK to share. Here it is. I spent a chunk hours

Apple Podcasts publishes the best of 2021

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The company earning more from podcasts than Google paid search; and iVoox adds more exclusives 4.5 mins to read · Your daily briefing for podcasting and on-demand, with 20952 subscribers; issue #1178 ·

[Live Webinar] Structure your L&D team for ultimate success in 2022

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Hello , 2021 was all about keeping our heads above the water. From moving training from in-person to online to onboarding new hires remotely, L&D teams had to make snap decisions and do their best

LAST EMAIL: doors closing

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Last reminder then done → the Copywriting Course Cyber Monday deal is almost over… 55% off a full year of training and personalized help. Our most ridiculous deal ever, and it's going away in: $750

Narrative kindling

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Writing retreat updates, collecting story material, writing in present tense, Apple Notes tips, and NFTs for authors. Narrative kindling By Iain Broome – 30 Nov 2021 – View online → Day one of my