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Ben Franklin: a 'cooperative' founding father

Jul 03, 2017

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Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Siffred Duplessis
Portrait of Franklin by Joseph Siffred Duplessis (ca. 1785)
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Did you know?

In addition to founding the first American cooperative, Franklin also:

  • Helped draft the Declaration of Independence
  • Created the first American political cartoon
  • Invented bifocal lenses, as well as the lightning rod, urinary catheter, odometer and numerous other inventions
  • Founded America’s first lending library
  • Was the first United States Postmaster General

This week, Americans across the country will celebrate Independence Day with cookouts, parades and the bright splashes of fireworks against the night sky.

But PEC and America's cooperatives have an extra reason to celebrate each Fourth of July. In addition to birthing the nation, one of our founding fathers also birthed the cooperative: Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin's exploits with electricity — a key and a kite — are legendary, but his connection to modern energy cooperatives is no less powerful.

In 1730, disastrous fires swept Philadelphia. Franklin, noting in the Pennsylvania Gazette that "An Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure," turned his busy brain to the intersection of democracy and public welfare.

In 1752, Franklin organized the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. It was the first property insurance company in what would become the United States, providing fire insurance for limited properties in and around Philadelphia. It was also the future nation’s first successful cooperative.

Inspired by a 1793 dictionary which defined "contribution" as "that which is given by several hands for some common purpose," the logo of the still-operating Philadelphia Contributionship is four clasped hands coming together, echoing a principle of togetherness that runs strong in cooperatives today.

Nearly two centuries later, that same cooperative spirit would well up in the heart of the young Lyndon B. Johnson. The future U.S. president rallied representatives from five surrounding Central Texas counties to bring electricity to the families of the Hill Country by incorporating the Pedernales Electric Cooperative.

From 1938 through today, PEC has been proud to embody the seven Cooperative Principles as we power and empower our Hill Country community. As you enjoy your fireworks and hot dogs this Independence Day, take a moment to remember Franklin, our most "cooperative" founding father — and to enjoy the legacy of democracy that persists in cooperatives like ours today.

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