The Junto was a club for mutual improvement established in 1727 by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia. Also known as the Leather Apron Club, its purpose was to debate questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy, and to exchange knowledge of business affairs.
Franklin organized a group of friends to provide a structured form of mutual improvement. The group, initially composed of twelve members, called itself the Junto (the word is a mistaken use of the masculine singular Spanish adjective "joined", mistaken for the feminine singular noun "junta", "a meeting". Both derive from Latin "iunct-", past participle of "iungere", "to join"). The members of the Junto were drawn from diverse occupations and backgrounds, but they all shared a spirit of inquiry and a desire to improve themselves, their community, and to help others. Among the original members were printers, surveyors, a cabinetmaker, a clerk, and a bartender. Although most of the members were older than Franklin, he was clearly their leader.
At just 21, he oversaw five men, including Hugh Meredith, Stephen Potts, and George Webb, who were soon to form the core of the Junto. Franklin was an outgoing, social individual and had become acquainted with some of the businessmen at a club called the Every Night Club. This gathering included prominent merchants who met informally to drink and discuss the business of the day. Franklin’s congenial ways attracted many unique and learned individuals, and from these, he selected the members for the Junto.
All members lived in Philadelphia and came from diverse areas of interest and business. Along with Meredith, Potts, and Webb, they included Joseph Breintnall, merchant and scrivener, who also loved poetry and natural history. Thomas Godfrey was a glazier, mathematician, and inventor; and Nicholas Scull and William Parsons were both surveyors. Scull was also a bibliophile and Parsons a cobbler and astrologer. William Maugridge was a cabinetmaker, William Coleman a merchant’s clerk, and Robert Grace a gentleman. Grace’s wealth meant he did not have to work, but apparently he brought an intellectual element to the group and a fine library. The twelfth member of the Junto remained a mystery until 2007, when Professor George Boudreau of Penn State discovered a long-forgotten account of the club's refreshments, and verified that shoemaker John Jones, Jr. was an original member. Jones was a Philadelphia Quaker, a neighbor of Franklin's, and later a founding member of the Library Company of Philadelphia. The club met Friday nights, first in a tavern and later in a house, to discuss moral, political, and scientific topics of the day.
Franklin describes the formation and purpose of the Junto in his autobiography:
I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year,  I had form'd most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss'd by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased.
Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.
The Junto's Friday evening meetings were organized around a series of questions that Franklin devised, covering a range of intellectual, personal, business, and community topics. These questions were used as a springboard for discussion and community action. In fact, through the Junto, Franklin promoted such concepts as volunteer fire-fighting clubs, improved security (night watchmen), and a public hospital.
The list of questions
This is the list of questions Franklin devised to guide the discussions at Junto meetings (from Franklin's papers, dated 1728, and included in some editions of his autobiography):
- Have you met with any thing 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 any thing 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 any body 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?
Any person to be qualified as a member was to stand up, lay his hand upon his chest, over his heart, and be asked the following questions, viz.
- Have you any particular disrespect to any present members? Answer. I have not.
- Do you sincerely declare that you love mankind in general, of what profession or religion soever? Answer. I do.
- Do you think any person ought to be harmed in his body, name, or goods, for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship? Answer. No.
- Do you love truth for truth's sake, and will you endeavor impartially to find and receive it yourself, and communicate it to others? Answer. Yes.
There are several modern-day Juntos modeled on Franklin's original meeting operating today. Hedge fund manager Victor Niederhoffer has been running the New York City Junto since 1985. Meeting monthly, the New York Junto focuses on libertarianism, Objectivism (the philosophy of Ayn Rand), and investing. The London Junto meets monthly in the heart of London's hedge-fund community at the Lansdowne Club, where Franklin signed the Treaty of Paris with Lord Shelburne. It attracts some of the leading global investment minds of today[who?], engaging them in critical, Socratic-style discussions. Nicholas Vardy has been running the London Junto since 2005.
P'unk Avenue hosts a monthly Junto in their studio in Philadelphia, where the Junto originated. Since January 2006, the Silicon Valley Junto has met in Palo Alto and San Francisco to discuss topics such as happiness, love, storytelling, and Americanism. Two graduates of Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, run the Montreal Junto, devoted to professional networking and public service. They meet on the last Wednesday of each month.
The University of Pennsylvania Chapter of the Junto Society is also in operation. As founder of both institutions, Ben Franklin remains an important motif for both the Penn Junto Society and the University in general. The Penn chapter has strong roots in Philadelphia's history, but was revived by an elite group of members graduating with the Class of 2011. The society exists primarily for intellectual discourse, socialization and networking purposes. As members disperse to the four corners of the globe, they hope to expand the society's scope and activities worldwide.
The Hong Kong Junto was established in 2009 comprising a diverse group of the business community including lawyers, bankers, investors, authors and entrepreneurs. The Hong Kong Junto meets the second Thursday of every month, usually in Central, with one of its members chairing the evening during which one of Franklin's original questions is asked and answered by all present, along with one other question that is the discretion of the member hosting. In 2012 the Hong Kong Junto started to become involved in promoting and supporting selected social enterprises in Hong Kong.
The Atlanta Junto was formed in 2011 to provide entrepreneurs, inventors, and business-minded Atlantans an opportunity to turn ideas into businesses.
The California Alumni In Arts & Entertainment Club, founded in 2004 by California Alumni Scholar David Herrera, was created intently on the model of Franklin's Junto and organizes alumni of the University of California, Berkeley who work professionally in the Arts and entertainment industry to create events and collaborative artistic projects which bring intelligence and insight to these media. The Club currently has more than 500 members worldwide at major film studios, TV and Cable networks, record labels, new and traditional media outlets, and art museums and galleries.
In 2012 a Junto society was formed in Cape Town, South Africa. It is officially the first Junto to be founded on African soil. The Cape Town Junto meets on the first Tuesday of every month to discuss entrepreneurial opportunities, the role of business in the development of Africa and broader societal concerns.
In September 2013 a Junto formed in Cincinnati, OH. It is privately run and true to the original intentions of Benjamin Franklin: "mutual improvement and sincere spirit of inquiry after truth." It meets every other Tuesday, 7:30pm. Members are encouraged to bring an article of their own writing once a quarter on whatever they feel suitable for the Junto.
There is also a Junto formed in 2012 based in Curitiba, Brazil.
Additionally, there is a Junto that meets monthly in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was started in November 2012 and held its first monthly meeting in December of the same year. The group meets on the third Tuesday of each month.