If there was any one theme throughout Ben Franklin's life, it was self-improvement. He was born into a family of seventeen children as the son of a poor candle and soap maker. He had less than two years of formal education and began his young adulthood entirely on his own in Philadelphia. Yet he became a wealthy man by eighteenth century standards and one of the most respected intellects of the Western world.
He was a model for the rags-to-riches story of the self-made man. Franklin's entire life reflected his belief in self-improvement, and from adolescence until his death at eighty-four, he worked constantly to improve his mind, his body, and his behavior.
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Body: Physical Activity
When most people think of Ben Franklin, they don't usually think of an athlete. However, Franklin was an early proponent of physical fitness. In an age when few people knew how to swim, Franklin taught himself how to swim. He was an avid swimmer all his life and even contemplated becoming a full-time swim instructor. Benjamin Franklin is the only founding father in the Swimming Hall of Fame.
During his first trip to England, Franklin found work in a print shop where most of the apprentices and journeymen spent much of their time getting drunk. Franklin knew that the mind and body was much more productive when it was not impaired by alcohol. Instead of drinking beer, Franklin decided to drink water and encouraged his co-workers to follow his lead. Although he wasn't successful at convincing all his colleagues to change their ways, Franklin's clear-headed work and productive physical strength (most printers would carry a single tray of heavy lead type; Franklin was known for usually carrying two trays) were recognized, and he was promoted.
Franklin wanted to improve his mind and his health and found a practical way to do both at the same time. Books were very expensive in Franklin's day, and as a youth, he didn't have much extra money. Franklin decided to become a vegetarian. He believed that eating a vegetarian diet was healthier than...