Michael Meyer

Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet: The Favorite Founder’s Divisive Death, Enduring Afterlife, and Blueprint for American Prosperity

Author Michael Meyer, on his book, Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet: The Favorite Founder’s Divisive Death, Enduring Afterlife, and Blueprint for American Prosperity, which takes on the incredible story of Benjamin Franklin’s parting gift to the working-class people of Boston and Philadelphia—a deathbed wager that captures the Founder’s American Dream and his lessons for our current, conflicted age.


The incredible story of Benjamin Franklin’s parting gift to the working-class people of Boston and Philadelphia–a deathbed wager that captures the Founder’s American Dream and his lessons for our current, conflicted age

Benjamin Franklin was not a gambling man. But at the end of his illustrious life, the Founder allowed himself a final wager on the survival of the United States: a gift of two thousand pounds to Boston and Philadelphia, to be lent out to tradesmen over the next two centuries to jump-start their careers. Each loan would be repaid with interest over ten years. If all went according to Franklin’s inventive scheme, the accrued final payout in 1991 would be a windfall.

In Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet, Michael Meyer traces the evolution of these twin funds as they age alongside America itself, bankrolling woodworkers and silversmiths, trade schools and space races. Over time, Franklin’s wager was misused, neglected, and contested–but never wholly extinguished. With charm and inquisitive flair, Meyer shows how Franklin’s stake in the “leather-apron” class remains in play to this day, and offers an inspiring blueprint for prosperity in our modern era of growing wealth disparity and social divisions.

[Recorded on June 30, 2022.]

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      Michael Meyer

      MICHAEL MEYER was among the first Peace Corps volunteers sent to China—the setting of his three award-winning books and an eventual, if unlikely, conduit to Benjamin Franklin. His stories have appeared in many outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, and on This American Life. A Guggenheim fellow and Whiting Award winner, Meyer has also received fellowships from the NEH, the Cullman Center, MacDowell, and the University of Oxford’s Centre for Life-Writing. Meyer is a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches nonfiction writing, and lives in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. He is currently a Fulbright scholar in Taiwan.