"The Way to Wealth," by Benjamin Franklin: A brief history of the Almanack

By Jeffrey Reeves MA



In 1758, Benjamin Franklin published the 25th and final issue of Poor Richard’s Almanack. As a preface to this final edition, he wrote "The Way to Wealth," and introduced Father Abraham as the main character in the tale.

Father Abraham embodied the financial wisdom of the founders of America. Poor Richard Saunders — one of Benjamin Franklin’s many pen names — incorporated the economic principles and financial practices derived from that wisdom in the Almanack.

In this weekly blog series, Dr Agon Fly, a pen name for ProducersWEB expert contributor Jeffrey Reeves, adds his unique and timely perspectives to this timeless classic about money and life.

A brief history of the Almanack
    “In 1732 I first published my Almanack under the name of Richard Saunders; it was continued by me about twenty-five years, and commonly called Poor Richard's Almanack. I endeavoured to make it both entertaining and useful, and it accordingly came to be in such demand, that I reaped considerable profit from it, vending annually near ten thousand.”
    — Benjamin Franklin

Think about that. That’s about one-half of one percent of the total population as subscribers and about four percent of the total population, based on the size of the nuclear families of that time. In today’s terms, that would be over 12 million regular readers and millions more pass-along readers.

Imagine the influence this simple publication had on the thinking and behavior of early America. As you peruse this series, recognize that the ideas, which lay as the foundation of the greatest economy in the history of the world, reach out to us today as much as they did when Benjamin Franklin published them in the early to mid 1700s. It takes only the willingness of the reader to capture these ideas and use them to build a solid foundation for their personal economy.

As you review each passage in this series, ask yourself, “Am I willing?”
    “And observing that it was generally read, (scarce any neighbourhood in the province being without it,) I considered it as a proper vehicle for conveying instruction among the common people, who bought scarcely any other books.”
    — Benjamin Franklin

In today’s world of mass communication — TV, satellite radio, cell phones that are more powerful than the computers of just a few years ago, print on demand publishing, and more than anything else, the Internet — is it any wonder that Americans who are bombarded with economic misinformation are going in dozens of different financial directions?

Not so in Benjamin Franklin’s day. His simple Almanack touched almost everyone in America, and the profound wisdom it conveyed led to the amazing social and economic accomplishments of individuals and of America as a whole.

In the past 35 years, America has been tricked into thinking that the simple ideas found in "The Way to Wealth" are somehow flawed. Americans have been misled and misinformed about how to create wealth and manage money by greedy Wall Street Wonks and the Dolts in DC.

"The Way to Wealth" is still a proper vehicle for conveying instruction to Americans.
    “I therefore filled all the little spaces, that occurred between the remarkable days in the Calendar, with proverbial sentences, chiefly such as inculcated industry and frugality, as the means of procuring wealth, and thereby securing virtue; it being more difficult for a man in want to act always honestly, as (to use here one of those proverbs) ‘It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.’"
    — Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin wrote and quoted pithy sayings that motivated early Americans to work hard and save money so they could amass wealth and secure virtue. What a novel idea!

It’s especially worth noting that there is no suggestion that the solution to the problem of poverty or economic failure is a function of government. Early Americans were wary of any government intervention in their private lives. Government’s incursion into the daily lives of everyday citizens was, in fact, the core reason for the American Revolution.

What amazes most is that the principles summarized in "The Way to Wealth" worked for the founding fathers and for many generations after them. It’s hard to be virtuous — have peace of mind and the freedom to serve our family, church and country — when living in poverty.

It’s equally hard to do so, as Thomas Jefferson said, when living under the crushing weight of a government that has the power to give you everything you need and the power to take it away.

The role of government in today’s more complex society is not the same as it was at the time of the revolution; however, the principles are the same. Keeping the government from becoming the dictator, even the benevolent dictator that keeps the individual in want is still a worthy goal.