Two hundred years after Ben Franklin started writing for his brother’s newspaper, a Ben Franklin statue followed the route he took when he ran away from home.
Only instead of ending up in Philadelphia, the Ben Franklin statue ended up in Waterbury, Conn.
A renowned sculptor, Paul Bartlett, received a commission to create the statue of Franklin in 1921. He had completed his masterwork, the pediment to the U.S. Capitol, five years earlier. When Bartlett finished his Ben Franklin statue, someone had the bright idea of putting it on the road before settling in Waterbury.
The Ben Franklin Statue was a gift to the city from Elisha Leavenworth, a Waterbury industrialist who died childless in 1911.
The Waterbury Republican took out an ad to explain why Waterbury needed a Ben Franklin statue: “Waterbury loves the memory and respects the character of Franklin, and will furnish the proper atmosphere for a statue of the Revolutionary philosopher and statesman,” the ad said.
In a burst of boosterism, the ad extolled the virtues of Waterbury: studious, thrifty, prosperous and beautiful.
Ben Franklin Statue Runs Away
Ben Franklin described the route he took to Philadelphia in his autobiography.
First he sailed to New York City. A friend persuaded the captain of a sloop that the teen-aged Franklin had ‘got a naughty girl with child.’ He said Franklin needed to leave secretly because her friends would make him marry her.
“So I sold some of my books to raise a little money,” he wrote, “was taken on board privately, and as we had a fair wind, in three days I found myself in New York, near three hundred miles from home.”
Franklin tried to get a job with a printer, who told him to go to Philadelphia because his son, also a printer, had lost his helper. Franklin boarded a ship for Philadelphia, but a squall sent the vessel off course. He disembarked in Perth Amboy and walked 50 miles to Burlington, N.J.
In Burlington he realized people thought he had run away. He immediately caught a boat to Philadelphia. Franklin arrived in the city dirty, tired and hungry. He had only a Dutch dollar and a copper shilling in his pocket.
The Ben Franklin Statue
The Ben Franklin statue got a bigger celebration than the real Ben Franklin ever did, at least as a runaway. The 22 cities it visited gave “large-scale patriotic demonstrations” on its arrival, according to the Boston Globe.
Printers, electricians and opticians took charge of the statue along the route, which started in Philadelphia. It stopped in the New Jersey towns of Bordentown, Burlington and Perth Amboy on the way to New York.
The Ben Franklin statue then sailed to Boston, where it arrived at Charlestown Navy Yard. It was “securely strapped to the deck of the Naval tug Lykens, forward of the pilot house and accompanied by two sea scouts,” according to the Boston Globe.
The statue paraded through the streets of Boston, got reviewed by the governor and paused in front of Franklin’s birthplace on Milk Street. People placed memorial wreaths on Franklin’s parents’ graves in the Old Granary Burying Ground.
Then the statue was exhibited on Boston Common for two days with an honor guard of sea scouts, soldiers and Boy Scouts.
It moved on to Providence, New London and New Haven, the birthplace of the sculptor. Finally, the statue made one more stop in Bridgeport.
And then it rested in Waterbury, where it was unveiled June 4, 1921.
The statue still sits in Library Plaza today.
Image: By Amphictyon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46419672. This story last updated in 2022.