While he is remembered as one of the founding fathers of the United States, an inventor, a diplomat, a scientist and author, one of the nation’s earliest entrepreneurs has recently been discovered to have also created a business arrangement that could earn him yet another title in the history books.
For centuries, Americans have honored Benjamin Franklin as a major figure in American history, but evidence also points to Franklin as the first to franchise a business concept—printing.
For years, there has been much debate about the origin of franchising. But according to documents unearthed by franchise consultant and author Michael H. Seid, Franklin, in 1733, drew up a six-year contract that allowed South Carolina printer Thomas Whitmarsh to operate under terms much like those enjoyed by franchisees today.
As stated in the agreement, Franklin was to pay one-third of the costs in return for one-third of Whitmarsh’s profits. From that point onward stemmed multiple partnerships throughout the colonies. Other evidence reveals that one of his earliest franchisees became the first female publisher in the colonies.
The income from his growing franchise network, Seid said, helped sustain Franklin while he lived in Paris negotiating France’s entry into the Revolutionary War as an American ally.