A look at the daily routine of Benjamin Franklin, who didn't always follow his own 'early to bed, early to rise' advice

William Thomas Cain / Stringer / Getty ImagesBen Franklin didn’t always practice what he preached.
  • Benjamin Franklin left behind detailed writings about his typical daily routine.
  • His schedule varied over the years – as did his commitment to some of his own popular aphorisms.
  • According to his fellow Founding FatherJohn Adams, Franklin didn’t always follow his own advice in his later years.

Benjamin Franklin was a true Renaissance man.

After getting his start in the printing business, he went on to establish himself as a leading writer and political thinker in the English colonies in North America; invent the lightning rod, bifocals, and swim fins; make a number of crucial scientific discoveries; and help draft the Declaration of Independence and secure his country’s’ freedom from England.

The Founding Father got a lot done, so it’s no surprise that he earned the unofficial moniker of “First American.”

And it’s definitely not a shock that he was pretty intentional about his time, according to his autobiography.

Here’s a breakdown of what Franklin’s days looked like:


You probably know the old cliche, which is popularly attributed to Franklin: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” According to his autobiography, the Founding Father did wake up early, rising at 5 a.m.

Hulton Archive / Handout / Getty Images

Source: Business Insider, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


He would then wash up and practice positivity and gratitude by addressing “Powerful Goodness.” This “Powerful Goodness” was Franklin’s concept of God. The Founding Father was a Deist, meaning he believed in a higher being.

Source: Business Insider, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” The Washington Post


Before 8 a.m., Franklin would also get down to business and do some reading.

Source: “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


As part of his daily routine, Franklin would also rate himself on 13 virtues —  temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility.

Source: “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” Business Insider


Every week, Franklin would pick a different virtue to focus on and note his failings on a special chart. In his autobiography, he wrote, “I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish.”

Source: “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” Business Insider


Franklin would also break his fast before 8 a.m. It’s unclear what breakfast foods he favoured…

LaryLitvin/Shutterstock

Source: Ben Franklin 300, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


… but it is known that he had a particular hankering for cranberries, honey, and, of course, apples. Not surprising, given the phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is commonly attributed to the statesman — though the saying actually predates Franklin.

Source: Ben Franklin 300, University of Delaware, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Franklin even once wrote a letter criticising his wife Deborah for forgetting to ship him a barrel of apples while he was living abroad.

kozirsky/Shutterstock

Source: Ben Franklin 300, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


After eating, Franklin would work until noon. Over the years, the nature of this work varied as the Founding Father’s career took a number of twists and turns.

Rischgitz / Stringer / Getty Images

Source: Business Insider, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Franklin’s hypothetical résumé could feature the titles of statesman, printer, author, scientist, inventor, diplomat, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, and delegate to the Constitutional Convention. So it’s safe to say that his schedule likely varied based on his role and other circumstances.

Source: Britannica, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Still, on an average day, Franklin wrote that he would “read or overlook my accounts, and dine” from noon to 2 p.m. This midday dinner was Franklin’s primary meal of the day. In terms of Franklin’s favourite foods, we do know that he wrote about his approval of potatoes, ginseng, maple syrup, corn, parmesan cheese, and turkey.

Rob Ludacer

Source: Business Insider, Business Insider, Ben Franklin 300, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Franklin can also be credited with helping to introduce tofu, rhubarb, and Scottish kale to colonial America.

Source: “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” Ben Franklin 300, Smithsonian


By two o’clock in the afternoon, Franklin went back to work, and he would keep at it until 6 p.m. in the evening.

Source: Business Insider, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Franklin is popularly imagined as a somewhat portly, gout-ridden older man, but he was far more active and athletic in his youth. According to Real Clear Science, he kept in shape as a typesetter by “running up and down stairs with heavy trays of lead type” and foregoing alcohol in favour of water.

Source: Real Clear Science, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


He was also a competent swimmer and was even honored by the International Swimming Hall of Fame. He once clocked a three and a half mile swim in the Thames, going from Chelsea to Blackfriars.

rootstock/Shutterstock

Source: Real Clear Science, International Swimming Hall of Fame, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Franklin wrote that he liked to “put things in their places,” eat supper, and enjoy music and conversation. The Founding Father played the viola da gamba, and even invented a musical instrument: the glass harmonica. After all that, Franklin said he would commence with an “examination of the day.”

Source: Business Insider, Ben Franklin 300, PBS, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Franklin would then turn in at 10 p.m. and proceed to sleep for seven hours.

Fenton one/Shutterstock

Source: Business Insider, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


John Adams wrote that Franklin “believed in the benefits of fresh air at night” —  contrary to popular opinion at the time, which lambasted night air as unhealthy —  and slept with the window open. Adams learned this the hard way. He and Franklin had to share a bed in September 1776 while travelling together.

Source: “John Adams,” “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Of course, Franklin himself would admit that he wasn’t always perfect about applying some of his popular wisdom to his own life.

Source: “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Adams would agree. The two men worked together in Paris while attempting to convince the French monarchy to support their revolutionary cause. He got to witness his colleague’s daily behaviours up close, and he wasn’t always impressed.

Source: “John Adams,” “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” The American Scholar


While he may have abstained from booze earlier in his life, Adams wrote that Franklin enjoyed his champagne while in France. Franklin also praised wine in a 1777 letter, writing that the beverage is “… a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”

Source: The Daily Meal, The Daily Meal, Founders Online, Infomotions, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Franklin also recorded a number of euphemisms for being drunk under the alias Silence Dogood in 1736. His suggestions included “Been too free with Sir John Strawberry,” “He’s contending with Pharaoh,” and “He’s Eat a Toad and half for Breakfast.”

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Source: The Daily Meal, The Daily Meal, Founders Online, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Historian David McCullough wrote that Adams, who had read Poor Richard’s Almanack growing up, was dismayed to see his “idolized sage” forsake his “early to bed, early to rise” advice in favour of rising at 10 a.m.

Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Source: “John Adams,” “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


While Franklin sometimes fell short of his lofty scheduling ambitions, that didn’t stop him from accomplishing much in his 84 years. And his writings continue to inspire readers to strive to lead productive, fulfilling, and healthy lives.

Source: Business Insider, Britannica, Britannica, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

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