Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was born the son of a candle and soap maker, but by his own efforts and intellect he rose to become arguably the most admired man of the eighteenth century.
Throughout his long and illustrious career he was many different things: a printer, philosopher, man of science, man of letters, and statesman. He was also a hoaxer. Like other eighteenth-century literary figures such as Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe, he used hoaxes for satirical ends, to expose what he perceived as foolishness and vice to the light of public censure.
The efforts of Franklin and other Enlightenment hoaxers to address public opinion through hoaxes reveals the increasing importance placed upon public opinion (and the idea of democracy) throughout this period. Franklin was a master of the art of public relations before that concept had even been dreamed up. The very image of himself which he presented to the world, as a simple but wise American rustic dressed in a raccoon-skin hat, was a carefully crafted public persona which belied the reality that he was one of the most sophisticated, cosmopolitan men of his era.
His most famous hoaxes are listed below.