Benjamin Franklin’s Way to Wealthis both a foundational document of American capitalism and a glimpse into the mind of arguably the most important founding father. Originally published in 1758, this essay collects aphorisms and adages appearing in his Poor Richards Almanack. Many of these phrases, such as “there are no gains without pains,” and “early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” have become staples of the American lexicon, and their influence on the national—and ultimately global—ethos of work and thrift is immense. Despite its importance, little scholarly work has been done on this essay and its extensive publication history. For his efforts in sponsoring The Way to Wealth Editions project, Dr. Sophus Reinert is the recipient of the 2015 CRL Primary Source Award for Research.
Based on a bibliography compiled by Kenneth E. Carpenter (former curator of the Baker Library Kress Collection), Dr. Reinert, an economic historian and Assistant Professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School, began The Way to Wealth Editions with the goal of developing a “a new approach for disseminating research findings that would broaden the user audience and engage them in a dynamic way.” Along with Mr. Carpenter, he partnered with Dr. Michael Hemment, Baker Library’s director for Faculty Research Innovation Initiatives. The collaboration resulted in a project that digitizes and makes available online detailed records of over one thousand editions of the essay, special full-text editions for individual and comparative analysis, time-line maps of its dissemination and interactive commentaries designed to illuminate the text and its history for researchers. This platform circumvents the traditional research publication process with a more dynamic, interactive presentation. Among other features is a crowdsourcing tool that invites other libraries, archives, and researchers to contribute additional editions.
Reviewers for this year’s award were struck by the possibilities this new format allows, commenting that, “All too often, innovative digital scholarship seems to remain on the fringe of publishing . . . the methods and tools employed for representing editions of The Way to Wealth could easily be employed with other primary source materials.”
Using the website as a “lens of cultural history,” Dr. Reinert has most recently written on Franklin’s influence in the February 2015 issue of the American Historical Review: “The Way to Wealth Around the World: Benjamin Franklin and the Globalization of American Capitalism.”