In the fall of 1727 Benjamin Franklin and a group of friends founded the Junto Club also known as the Leather Apron Club. The 12 members were tradesmen and artisans who met Friday evenings to discuss issues of morals, politics or natural philosophy. The club lasted 38 years. Franklin proposed that the group be formed of “ingenious men –a physician, a mathematician, a geographer, a natural philosopher, a botanist, a chemist, and a mechanician (engineer)”.
A branch of the Junto Cub was the American Philosophical Society created in 1743 and which still exists.
Members of the Junto club were avid readers and intellectuals involved in their individual improvement and that of society. The Junto was a launching pad for many public projects. Out of the meetings came proposals for the creation of the first lending library, the Union Fire Company, the University of Pennsylvania, volunteer militia, Pennsylvania Hospital among other public project.
The first public affair of the Junto club was the regulation and improvement of the city watch. They proposed taxing land owners in proportion to their property. Although the plan was not immediately executed it prepared the minds of the people and paved the way for the law that was adopted years later.
Franklin devised a group of questions to guide discussions at meetings and to provide a structure:
- Have you met with anything in the author you last read, remarkable, or suitable to be communicated to the Junto? Particularly in history, morality, poetry, physics, travels, mechanic arts, or other parts of knowledge?
- What new story have you lately heard agreeable for telling in conversation?
- Has any citizen in your knowledge failed in his business lately, and what have you heard of the cause?
- Have you lately heard of any citizen’s thriving well, and by what means?
- Have you lately heard how any present rich man, here or elsewhere, got his estate?
- Do you know of any fellow citizen, who has lately done a worthy action, deserving praise and imitation? or who has committed an error proper for us to be warned against and avoid?
- What unhappy effects of intemperance have you lately observed or heard? of imprudence? of passion? or of any other vice or folly?
- What happy effects of temperance? of prudence? of moderation? or of any other virtue?
- Have you or any of your acquaintance been lately sick or wounded? If so, what remedies were used, and what were their effects?
- Who do you know that are shortly going [on] voyages or journeys, if one should have occasion to send by them?
- Do you think of anything at present, in which the Junto may be serviceable to mankind? to their country, to their friends, or to themselves?
- Hath any deserving stranger arrived in town since last meeting, that you heard of? and what have you heard or observed of his character or merits? and whether think you, it lies in the power of the Junto to oblige him, or encourage him as he deserves?
- Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up, whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage?
- Have you lately observed any defect in the laws, of which it would be proper to move the legislature an amendment? Or do you know of any beneficial law that is wanting?
- Have you lately observed any encroachment on the just liberties of the people?
- Hath anybody attacked your reputation lately? and what can the Junto do towards securing it?
- Is there any man whose friendship you want, and which the Junto, or any of them, can procure for you?
- Have you lately heard any member’s character attacked, and how have you defended it?
- Hath any man injured you, from whom it is in the power of the Junto to procure redress?
- In what manner can the Junto, or any of them, assist you in any of your honourable designs?
- Have you any weighty affair in hand, in which you think the advice of the Junto may be of service?
- What benefits have you lately received from any man not present?
- Is there any difficulty in matters of opinion, of justice, and injustice, which you would gladly have discussed at this time?
- Do you see any thing amiss in the present customs or proceedings of the Junto, which might be amended?
Members of the Junto Club
Among the original members of the Junto Club are:
Hugh Meredith – Employed by Samuel Keimer and business partner of Franklin.
William Parsons – Shoe maker and amateur mathematician who became surveyor general.
William Maugridge – Mechanic and cabinet maker.
Steven Potts – Employed by Samuel Keimer.
George Webb – Runaway Oxford student and apprentice with Keimer.
Thomas Godfrey – Amateur mathematician and glass worker.
Joseph Breintall – Poetry lover. Scrivener, writing or reading letters to court and legal documents.
Robert Grace – Gentleman of fortune.
William Coleman – Merchant with exacting morals.
Nicholas Scull – Surveyor who became surveyor general.
John Jones – Quaker and shoe maker.