On this day back in 1754, Benjamin Franklin’s now-famous “Join or Die” woodcut cartoon was first published in his Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper. The cartoon, which showed a snaked severed into eight segments each representing a British American colony or region, was meant to inspire unity among the colonies before the French and Indian War. Later, it became an important symbol of colonial freedom during the Revolutionary War.
Interestingly, Franklin chose to represent all of New England as one segment, as opposed to the four colonies it was at the time. He also omitted Delaware and Georgia completely. Even back in the 18th century, space was tight for cartoons.
It’s also a learning lesson for editors about the power of cartoons. Along with the cartoon, Franklin wrote an editorial about the “disunited state” of the colonies to drive home the importance of colonial unity. Over 250 years later, Franklin’s column is long forgotten, but his cartoon is still as popular as ever.
Here’s how it appeared back in 1754: