Biography and History

Franklin Publications was officially incorporated in the state of New York on June 5, 1952 as a nonprofit membership corporation for publication and translation of American books to native languages for distribution abroad. A group of American publishers, librarians and educators who were concerned with the state of education in developing countries founded the organization and named it after America's first book publisher, Benjamin Franklin. This group hoped that by facilitating and encouraging the publication and reading of American books in translation, international ties would be strengthened. Franklin's official purpose as stated in its certificate of incorporation was to:

publish and disseminate the printed word to the peoples of the world outside the United States, to stimulate interest in and promote the freedom, dignity and welfare of mankind; and to convey to them the knowledge and information relating to the people of the United States; and to stimulate interest in the history, government, culture, economy, technology, science and learning of the people of the United States.

The United States Information Agency (USIA) provided a $500,000 grant for the establishment of Franklin Publications, Inc. The organization stressed it was not a distributor of American propaganda nor was it an extension of the United States government, although it was originally conceived as a way of offering the services of the book publishing industry to the Government's overseas translation program. Contention erupted between Franklin and the USIA over the agency's desire to have final approval over the selection of titles. Franklin resented the agency's attempt to apply the same measures to Franklin's title selection as it applied to its own translation program. Franklin believed this limited their flexibility in working with foreign advisors and publishers. A series of discussions took place between the USIA and Franklin, which resulted in the USIA stating it had no desire to interfere with the normal publishing operations of Franklin. Their direct interest was in those projects financed by USIA funds. However, the USIA stipulated selected books were to have the following objectives, once Franklin had decided to focus its initial efforts on Arab-speaking countries in the Middle East:

Franklin opened its first field office in Cairo, Egypt in June 1953 and by 1959 other field offices had opened in Tehran, Iran, Tabriz, Iran, Lahore, Pakistan, Dacca, Bangladesh, Djakarta, Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Beirut, Lebanon and Baghdad, Iraq. Franklin hired locals to staff its field offices and relied upon the advice of local advisors to select the types of books desired. The local advisors made the final decision on titles selected, but Franklin did supply American specialists to provide suggestions and comments if needed. Franklin did have the technical right to veto a title selection but rarely used it. It could not impose a selection on the local office but it would propose alternatives for out of date or low quality books. Once a title was selected and approved, Franklin secured the translation rights from the American proprietor, and then contracted with a local publisher and translator. Franklin paid for the translation, special editorial work, the introduction and artwork. The local publisher paid for paper (unless it was hard to secure, in which case Franklin would supply it), printing, binding, and all other normal publishing expenses. The publisher also agreed to pay Franklin ten percent of the local selling price. After the book was published, Franklin would aid the publisher in promoting, advertising and setting up jobber arrangements.

Franklin secured its first contract with a Cairo publisher in April 1953, and Edward R. Murrow's This I Believe was the first book published in Arabic on October 5, 1953. It was also the most popular, selling an estimated 30,000 copies in six months. Other early books included Bertha Parker's Basic Science Education Series, George Soule's Ideas of The Great Economists, Majid Khadduri's The Middle East in the Writings of Americans, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome, Charles Leonard's Why Children Misbehave, Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and Herman and Nina Schneider's Your Telephone and How it Works. By June 1954, 132 titles had been published in Persian, Urdu, Turkish and Indonesian. Franklin did not maintain an office in Turkey but assisted its Ministry of Education with the publication of titles in the field of teacher training.

Franklin initially shied away from textbook publishing because “imperialist poisoning of the minds of children” was easy fodder for anti-American propagandists. However, at the request of the Ministries of Education of Afghanistan and Iran, Franklin began a textbook program in 1957. It supplied new design and artwork, carried out physical production of textbooks, and assisted in the improvement of content. It should be noted that many of Franklin's translated books made their way into local universities and were often used as “textbooks.”

As the 1950s drew to a close, Franklin had gained the respect of the countries it served and thus survived a total of twenty-one changes of government in those countries. It prided itself in having no national or international political involvement, although it did receive funds and support from government officials in various countries. Its program had not only fostered intellectual development but also gave a boost to the developing country's local economy. By eschewing a “giveaway” policy, Franklin helped the local book industry instead of subsidizing the circulation of particular books.

The 1960s were a tumultuous time for Franklin. It continued to grow, expanding its programs to Africa and South America, but soon found itself in serious financial jeopardy. It began to redirect its activities from direct operational projects toward educational development. Specifically, it began to focus more on developing libraries and literacy campaigns, producing encyclopedias and dictionaries, developing textbooks, conducting training seminars in book publishing and writers' workshops, and technical assistance in printing, publishing and book selling. This redefinition also extended to a name change. Franklin Publications became Franklin Book Programs in 1964. The board felt the name Franklin Publications sounded too commercial and gave the impression it was a competitor to publishers. The organization's original name also failed to show its emphasis on books and that it was an international program.

This functional shift was also the result of dwindling financial support. The United States government as well as foreign governments were no longer interested in subsidizing traditional translation programs. Franklin did receive some financial support from a sister organization in September 1965. The members of the Council on Books in War Time, Inc. voted to dissolve the corporation and distribute its remaining funds to Franklin. However, by November 1967 Franklin was in a precarious financial situation. It reduced staff levels in all of its offices, eliminated marginal but relatively costly programs, confined the translation program to donor-supported titles, and established stricter budgetary controls. The president of Franklin stated in a November 1968 memorandum to the board of directors that although the translated book program had assisted local publishers, it had not had a major influence on the development of indigenous publishing, and was not a significant factor in educational and economical development. It was a relatively low-volume high-cost program that required a burdensome subsidy.

Franklin continued to redefine its mission to attract financial support, and in 1971-1972 established two task forces: one to consider a merger for Franklin while the other reviewed its programs, fundraising activities, and viability. The first task force recommended that Franklin remain independent if it could possibly do so while the other task force made several significant recommendations. It urged that “Franklin's role be expanded worldwide, it become an aggressive seeker of funds, and become a representative of a broad section of the American business and professional community in developing education, which is the key to the improvement of the quality of life in developing countries.” Franklin continued to remain solvent and functioning until June 1978 when its board and members voted to dissolve the corporation after recognizing that for the most part Franklin's original mission had been achieved.

Source: From the finding aid for MC057

  • Franklin Book Programs Records. 1920-1978 (inclusive), 1952-1977 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC057

    The Records of the Franklin Book Programs document the activities of the organization from its inception in 1952 to its dissolution in 1978. For 26 years, Franklin assisted developing countries in the creation, production, distribution, and use of books and other educational materials. Its efforts were based on the premise that through wider and improved education, underdeveloped nations could better utilize their human resources to help eliminate hunger, poverty, overpopulation, and economic paralysis.