‘Ben Franklin Left Money to Boston’
On December 9 2021, Imgur user rippinro shared the following meme, claiming that Benjamin Franklin left $2,000 to young people in Boston and Philadelphia in his will:
Underneath a portrait of Franklin, text read:
Benjamin Franklin left $2,000 to Boston and Philadelphia to help young people in those cities. But he stipulated in his will that cities could not draw the balance for 200 years. In 1990, it was worth $6.5 million. The money was used to fund scholarships, women’s health, and [to] help firefighters and disabled children.
Although the image was tagged “the more you know,” it wasn’t accompanied by any citations supporting its claims. The same post appeared to have been posted to (and removed from) the subreddit r/HumansBeingBros on December 6 2021:
Initially, a search for information turned up an entry on the website of philanthropic organization the Centre Foundation, worded in a similar (but not identical) fashion. According to the Centre Foundation, it was among distributors of the purported grant’s proceeds:
Ben Franklin Fund
In his will, Benjamin Franklin left $2,000 to the city of Philadelphia and $2,000 to the city of Boston with the direction that it could not be drawn on for 100 years and could not be distributed for 200 years. The funds were invested and after the first 100 years, the funds began making personal loans to the citizens of Philadelphia. After the 200 years were up, the State of Pennsylvania directed the money to be split between most of the community foundations in the state. Distributions from the Ben Franklin Fund at Centre Foundation are used to make grants to Centre, Clearfield, Huntingdon and Mifflin counties, benefiting Citizens of the Commonwealth and paid to qualified charities within the region. Grants from this fund are currently distributed as part of our competitive grants process.
In the meme, the year 1990 was mentioned in the context of the value of the original bequeathments. We located an April 21 1990 New York Times article, “From Ben Franklin, a Gift That’s Worth Two Fights,” detailing the meme’s elements and validating its claims:
[In April 1990,] 200 years after his death on April 17, 1790, Boston and Philadelphia are about to become beneficiaries of Franklin’s 18th century wisdom. Franklin bequeathed the cities a total of $2,000 sterling, with one hitch: much of the money could not be drawn on for 100 years, and the rest could not be distributed for 200 years.
Today, what remains of Franklin’s bequest is worth $6.5 million, and the legacy has become a matter of no small dispute. Politicians, historians and civic leaders are at odds over how the money can best be spent to solve 20th century problems.
Franklin, who was born in Boston but moved to Philadelphia at age 17, left the money in a codicil to his will. He specified that the $2,000 be divided equally between Boston and Philadelphia for use as loans for young apprentices as he had once been. Then, 100 years after his death, part of the money should be disbursed, with the remainder given out a century later.
Franklin’s instructions also provided that at the end of the 200 years the balance of the money in the Boston trust be divided, with 26 percent going to the city and 74 percent to Massachusetts. He made a similar arrangement with Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, but he did not spell out how the final sums should be spent, ”not presuming to carry my views farther,” he said in the will.
As for the $6.5 million cited in the meme, the Times’ article explained that the trust in Boston was valued at $4.5 million, while the Philadelphia allotment was $2 million as of 1990. Combined, the willed funds indeed totaled $6.5 million:
The balance in the Boston trust is now $4.5 million, while the money in the Philadelphia account is valued at $2 million. The large difference in the value can be traced to the wiser handling of the investment in Boston, said Whitfield Bell, a historian and the curator of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. The philosophical society was one of a number of intellectual organizations founded by Franklin.
In spite of the meme’s brevity, its claims that Benjamin Franklin willed $2,000 (each) to Boston and Philadelphia were accurate, as were its claims that the funds were held in trust for 200 years — until 1990. Boston’s $2,000 became $4.5 million and Philadelphia’s $2,000 became $2 million, valuing them at a combined total of $6.5 million. Elements of the meme were not fully articulated, but on balance, we rate the claim True.