The incredible journey of Benjamin Franklin’s Way to Wealth--and its bibliographical traces


American Antiquarian Society
185 Salisbury Street
Worcester, MA 01609
United States

Benjamin Franklin’s “Way to Wealth” began its existence in Philadelphia as the untitled preface to Poor Richard’s Almanac for 1758. Despite not having a formal title—or author’s name—and despite being published on the periphery of the British Empire, it gradually spread around the world, eventually being published in twenty-six languages, in well over a thousand appearances. Franklin’s paean to hard work and frugality was issued for a variety of audiences, from elites to peasants and servants, and in formats ranging from newspapers to advice manuals to schoolbooks. Thanks to digitization, it has been possible to produce a bibliography that describes distinct appearances, not just editions. This lecture will explain the process by which Franklin’s anonymous text spread widely and deeply into the Western world.


Kenneth Carpenter retired in 2000 after a thirty-five-year career in Harvard University’s libraries. He is the author of numerous works of bibliography and library history including Readers & Libraries: Toward a History of Libraries and Culture in America (1996), The Legacy of James Bowdoin III (1994) and Dissemination of the Wealth of Nations in French and in France, 1776-1843 (2002).