Benjamin Franklin and the Future of Printing

Jim Hamilton
Jan 3, 2010

It was my great pleasure last week to visit the Minneapolis History Center in St. Paul where among other fascinating exhibits is “Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World” (see the exhibit web site for more details). As I think about 2010 and the various possibilities that new technologies may bring, I was struck by something Franklin wrote in a May 1788 letter to the Reverend John Lathrop:

“…I have sometimes almost wish’d it had been my Destiny to be born two or three Centuries hence. For Inventions of Improvement are prolific, and beget more of their Kind. The present Progress is rapid. Many of great Importance, now unthought of, will before that Period be procur’d; and then I might not only enjoy their Advantages, but have my Curiosity satisfy’d in knowing what they are to be.”

This oft-repeated quote is used for the closing words of the exhibit. Ronald Reagan used it while presenting National Medals of Science and Technology in 1987. The quote appears in many places (with variations in spelling, wording, and capitalization — the version here comes from It’s used frequently for a reason. It’s prescient. Here’s a man who saw how a lightning rod could be used to save lives. A Renaissance man who proudly called himself a printer.

It’s safe to say that Franklin’s “two or three Centuries hence” is now, and I think he would be delighted (and perhaps flabbergasted) to see the state of printing technology today and the possibilities that it brings alone or in conjunction with other methods of communication that didn’t even exist in his day. Here’s wishing you an exciting 2010 for all the possibilities it may bring!

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