Society - People
By: - at October 18, 2013

15 Interesting Facts about Ben Franklin

There have been many different inventors and scientists throughout the history of the United States of America that have been studied at great length. While a majority of the most widely known inventors and innovators were only able to make one contribution that significantly changed the world, there are also a select few that made multiple discoveries and innovative contributions. Benjamin Franklin is regarded as the most diversely talented out of the original founding fathers, and perused his interest in a great many things during his lifetime. In addition to many of his accomplishments during the 18th century, there are quite a few facets of the man whose face is featured on the $100 bill that are less widely known.

West's Painting of Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky - 1816
West's Painting of Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky - 1816

15)  He Pretended to Be a Woman Just to Become a Published Writer
As a young and ambitious teenage writer, Benjamin Franklin strongly desired to get his writings published, but he continuously got rejected by editors and publishers. When he was 16 years of age and after what seemed liked constant rejections, he decided to publish one of his pieces using a pseudonym as a last attempt to have one of his pieces accepted for publishing. That was when Mrs. Silence Dogood was created out of thin air and began writing different articles, letters and stories from a female perspective, and her content was widely published in the New England Courant (a newspaper that Ben's brother owned).

Third Dogood Essay Published by New England Courant
Third Dogood Essay Published by New England Courant

He would listen to his brother and other colleagues as they would read and publish just about everything Mrs. Dogood submitted. Her work even made it to the front page of the newspaper on a number of occasions. Finally it was revealed that young Benjamin Franklin was Mrs. Silence Dogood, and his brother was furious because of his dishonesty. Mrs. Dogood's writing career was immediately terminated, even with her growing popularity among the New England Courant readership.

14)  He Was Absolutely Terrified of Debt in General
There are millions of people in the United States today that struggle with debt every single day. Statistics show that there is currently over $793 billion in credit card debt in the U.S. alone. That works out to an average credit card debt per household at a little under $16,000. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin admitted on a number of occasions that he was absolutely terrified of ever getting into debt? In his opinion, being in debt was the same thing as being a slave. He had witnessed many of his close friends destroy their lives simply because they got themselves into debt, and he never wanted to experience that financial turmoil personally.

benjamin Franklin

He lived a very simple life that could of been considered well beneath his financial means, considering he made a substantial amount of money from his inventions, experiments and other profitable investments. He even considered establishing a global organization that would be known as The Society of the Free and Easy. The purpose of the organization would have been to encourage people to live their lives absolutely free of debt.

13)  He Was a Self-Taught Musician
franklin and musicBenjamin Franklin never took any type of formal music lessons. Instead, he decided to take the time to teach himself how to skillfully play the harp, guitar and violin. Even as a young child, he appreciated the beauty of music and the sound of musical instruments from his era. When he was seven years old, he used all of his Christmas money to purchase a penny whistle. With it he composed a basic string quartet that was titled "Simplicity." This particular piece had a strong emphasis on the beautiful music that could be played by following simple notes and scales. That was the first of many different pieces he would receive composition credit during his fascinating life. One piece, "I Sing My Plain Country Joan," was originally written to his wife, Deborah. Benjamin Franklin was also fluent in several different languages, and was publicly recognized as a self-taught genius with a simple and humble background.

12)  He Received a Warm Greeting of Gun Fire in Philadelphia
As soon as Benjamin Franklin made his way back to Philadelphia in 1785 after serving as U.S. Ambassador to France, he received a very elaborate and momentous greeting from the city to officially welcome him back home. There were a lot of guns being fired off, as well as church bells that rang repeatedly in his honor.

Franklin's Return to Philadelphia
Franklin's Return to Philadelphia

He did not have to stay home long before he was called upon to become the President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. The position was the equivalent of a state governor. He initially did not want to accept this prominent position that had extremely important responsibilities. In addition to getting older, he was starting to experience consistent problems with his health. However, he could not resist the persuasion of the people, and later made the joke later that the "country's folk" had essentially "taken the prime" of his life. He decided to accept this role of public service to honor the people and in respect of the state he loved. He was elected to a second term, but there is some debate as to how much he really had to do with the day-to-day duties of the position towards the end of his final term.  

11)  He Established the First Insurance Company Available in the Colonies
In the early 1750s, Benjamin Franklin was able to open and organize the very first insurance company in the thirteen colonies. The reoccurrence of uncontrollable fires throughout the area was a major problem, and they destroyed many homes and businesses. Fire insurance became the focus for the first colonial insurance company, and it was rightfully named the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. The major fire at Fishbourne's wharf which occurred in 1730, proved that many people throughout Philadelphia were unprepared when it came to handling the damages caused by a disaster like a structure fire.

Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire
Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire

In 1735, he used the Gazette newspaper to connect with local citizens and inform them about just how important it was to create reforms that were necessary to prevent similar tragedies from happening again. The primary policy that was offered was a mutual insurance plan, which basically meant that everyone would share the risk of each person's loss. In order to be approved for this particular insurance policy, citizens were required to first sign an Article of Association or a Deed of Settlement. This concept expanded over the years, but Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in getting the first colonially-operated insurance company started.

10)  He Founded the First Volunteer Fire Company in the Country
Franklin the FiremanOver twenty years before he established the very first fire insurance company, Benjamin Franklin had the ambitious desire of becoming a firefighter. He achieved this goal at the age of 30 after rallying in the local newspaper to have a volunteer firefighting brigade created. That is what led to the establishment of the very first volunteer fire company, The Union Fire Company, in 1736. The first brigade had only 26 members. Due to the ambitious desires and endeavors of Benjamin Franklin, the Union Fire Company was able to make sure that Philadelphia was prepared for anything.

Ben also was known for using his printing resources to teach people how to effectively prevent fires that arose within their homes and buildings. This type of education was able to provide many people with the knowledge that they did not have beforehand when it came to preventative measures that could be taken to minimize the risk of being endangered by a major fire in the future. Benjamin Franklin always felt that a single ounce of prevention was worth more than a pound of cure.

Philadelphia Fire Department's Ladder 2 Station - Direct Descendant of Franklin's Union Fire Company
Philadelphia Fire Department's Ladder 2 Station - Direct Descendant of Franklin's Union Fire Company

He would even remind people of the need to be willing to jump out of the window of their homes in the event of an uncontrollable fire in order to save their lives, instead of worrying excessively about their homes and most likely perishing.

9)  He Established the University of Pennsylvania
It had been a major dream of Benjamin's to be able to develop an educational institution that would have a solid curriculum focusing on English grammar skills and composition. It was his goal to promote a further appreciation of literature, and get more people to communicate better with one another through writing. The curriculum for his dream institution would also focus on applying practical knowledge of mathematics and science within a traditional classroom environment. After he got the ball rolling, the school was officially established and opened for admissions in 1751. There were initially just one hundred students admitted, and it was officially charted as a college and as an academy less than four years later. Over the next four decades, the school grew in many different ways and thrived within the state – exceeding even the greatest of expectations and hopes. In 1791, it was officially renamed the University of Pennsylvania, which is the same name that it has kept for over 220 years.

Sculpture of Benjamin Franklin in front of College Hall
Sculpture of Benjamin Franklin at the University of Pennsylvania

The average class is now much larger than the 100 students that attended the school when it was first opened. However, the basic principles and solid curriculum that Benjamin Franklin envisioned over two centuries ago are still in place.

8)  He Never Wanted the Profits for Inventing the Franklin Stove
Benjamin Franklin and stoveMany people may think that Benjamin Franklin was a very wealthy man who continued to create revolutionary inventions in order to make even more money. Keep in mind that this was the same man that created a wide variety of inventions that are still being used over 200 years later, with only slight modifications from their original designs. Benjamin Franklin clearly could have written his own check in life, as the old saying goes, especially when it came to one of his most famous and widely known inventions – the Franklin Stove. However, research studies have proven that he actually didn't feel motivated by capital interests when it came to his inventions.

When the Franklin Stove was first marketed in 1742, it was clear that Benjamin Franklin was on to something big. It was a cast-iron stove that had the efficiency and appearance of an actual fireplace. It proved to be far less dangerous to use than an open wood fireplace. The state governor even tried to work out a deal with Benjamin Franklin for the exclusive right of producing and vending these stoves, but Franklin declined his offer. He could have easily focused all of his time, efforts, and resources on making sure that he made as much money as possible off of the Franklin Stove (also known as the Pennsylvania Fireplace.) Shockingly, he refused to take any personal profits from the sales of this amazing invention that were generated over the years. He always felt that the only payment that he really needed was to know that this invention was able to bring an immeasurable amount of satisfaction to thousands of houses throughout the country, and served as an efficient source of warmth for the families that lived within them. The Franklin Stove was also able to deliver an improved ventilation system and fuel-efficient solution that no other inventor had been able to develop at that time.

Franklin's Original Drawing for the Franklin Stove
Franklin's Original Drawing of the Franklin Stove

Franklin's motivations for one of his most successful inventions was just to create something that would help families, and profits seemed to be one of the last things on his mind. 

7)  He Played a Key Role in the Founding of the First American Hospital
Even though Benjamin Franklin did not necessarily build the first American hospital with his own two hands, the charitable donations he was able to generate and collect played a significant role in its eventual completion. He worked directly with Dr. Thomas Bond, within the Board of Managers, after the United States had officially separated itself from Britain and become a free country. Records have confirmed that he was able to raise over 10,000 pounds within the Pennsylvania Assembly alone. He was then able to use his persuasive appeal with the general public in order to get enough donations to match that amount.

Pennsylvania Hospital
Pennsylvania Hospital
By Bruce Anderson via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to securing the initial funding for the hospital, Franklin even improved its overall efficiency after it was constructed. For example, he was the very first person to discover that fresh air was a required necessity when it came to curing diseases and improving the general health of patients. Based on his discovery, the windows of the hospital were lowered and the negative reactions of lung diseases and fevers began to cease as a direct result of Franklin's proposed changes.

6)  He Invented the First Original Musical Instrument in America
Quite a few instruments were developed in ancient times by the Romans, Greeks, and Israelites. The vast collection of instruments has continued to grow and expand over time worldwide. Included within the extensive list of original instrument creators and innovators is Benjamin Franklin. He not only wanted to enjoy hearing and playing music, but he wanted to create his own original instrument to make his own beautiful music with. That desire is what inspired him to create the glass armonica. This invention was recorded in history as being the very first original musical instrument that was created in America. It was first shown off to the world during a musical showcase that featured London musician Marianne Davies.

Franklin's Glass Armonica
Franklin's Glass Armonica

Benjamin Franklin worked with a professional London glass bowler in order to achieve a sufficient level of thickness for all of the bowls that were used to create this instrument. In order to play it properly, there were foot pedals that needed to be used and the musician could only play it with moist, clean fingers. After its first showcase, Benjamin traveled throughout all of London to play the glass armonica at different social events and parties. The name of this particular instrument was derived from the Italian word meaning "harmony." He worked with different thicknesses of bowls in order to figure out which bowl represented each musical note. His inspiration for the instrument came from watching a musician play a series of water-filled wine glasses. He was not afforded the very best education growing up as a child, but he was able to use the resources that he had to make the most of his natural intelligence.

5)  He Was Not Very Good at Advanced Math
advanced math

Keep in mind that Benjamin Franklin did not have the best education. He did attend school and appreciated education a great deal, but he did not perform very well when it came to advanced math. For the first five years of his electricity experimentation, he was not able to depend on his firm knowledge of advanced math formulas and equations in order to assist him in his research and studies.

Benjamin Franklin

He had to do everything by hand and through trial and error, using basic tools such as resin and glass tubes, corks, gun barrels, and wax plates. Think about that the next time you complain about your calculator not working properly and consider Franklin's toilsome calculation system. Today, even in advanced mathematics classes, students have it much easier than attempting to figure things out in the manner that Benjamin Franklin needed to. 

4)  He Invented the Terminology Associated with Electricity
While it is true that Benjamin Franklin did not create electricity, his experiments created the solid foundation that the world would use to study it further. There was no one at the time that was even willing to match the consistent effort and resources that Benjamin Franklin freely invested into these dangerous, yet enlightening, experiments. Since he was the primary source of research and understanding, he was the one that had to literally write the book on the basic principles and terminology of electricity.

Franklin's Experiments and Observations on Electricity
Franklin's Experiments and Observations on Electricity

Many of the terms and phrases that are used frequently about electricity were developed by Benjamin Franklin including terms like charged, brush, battery, conductor, and positive and negative.

3)  Ben Franklin Almost Died Twice Experimenting with Lightning
There have been many different stories and myths that have been taught over the years about Ben Franklin's experiments with lighting and electricity. It is commonly known that he was not the person who was flying the infamous kite with a key attached to it during a lightning storm. However, there were several times that Ben did experiment directly with lightning and electricity without the assistance of another person to do the grunt work for him, and he almost lost his life twice because of it. The only reason that he survived these incidents was because he simply did not receive a charge that was sufficiently strong enough to kill him.

Kite experiment

On two separate occasions, he ended up being unconscious for extended periods of time. During the first occasion, he tried to treat a man that had been paralyzed through electric shock. On the second occasion, he was experimenting with killing a turkey by electrocution. The charge did not go past his arms, but he recorded that the sensation felt like an "unusual blow" to his entire body.

2)  He Sold a Profitable Business to Focus on His Experiments
Benjamin Franklin could have used his resources and intelligence to focus on making a massive fortune throughout his life. However, that was not the way that he wanted things. His top priority was always his inventions and experiments, and the inherent good they could bring in the lives of other people. Research studies have proven that Benjamin Franklin became so absorbed in his work and experiments on electricity, that he decided to sell his printing business just to have more time and resources available to devote to his experiments.

Benjamin Franklin (center) at Work on a Printing Press
Benjamin Franklin (center) at Work on a Printing Press

With the amount of business that he was generating with his printing business, he basically was sitting on a goldmine that would continue to grow at an exponential rate. It is clear that Benjamin Franklin had his both his mind and heart set on changing the world, instead of on what he must of seen as the selfish goal of maximizing his own net worth.

1)  He Invented Many More Things than Most People Realize
When most people think of Benjamin Franklin's inventions, one of the first things that may come to mind is the invention of bifocal spectacles, which are still very popular. There were quite a few other inventions, however, that Benjamin was able to create throughout his life that were later innovated through future enhancements and upgrades. For example, he invented a library stepstool, which has been improved with slight variations over the years but the current version is extremely similar to Franklin's original design. He also invented the rocking chair, which he came up with by fitting curved pieces of wood onto the legs of his armchair. He is also the artist behind one of the most notorious political cartoons originally from the French and Indian War, that was recycled to rally the former colonies to unite against British rule at the onset of the Revolutionary War.

Join or Die franklin political cartoon

The postal service used odometers that were created by Franklin in order to measure the distance of colonial roads. He developed a revolutionary type of anchor that could be used on ships, and a white-light candle that was made out of whale oil that lasted much longer than traditional candles. He developed a pulley system that allowed him to lock and unlock the door to his bedroom and an enhanced version of the standard streetlight. The inventions he seems to be most known for are the glass armonica, the busybody, and bifocals.

By Frank C. Müller via Wikimedia Commons

Final Words
It truly is amazing what you can learn about someone just by focusing on several interesting facts that may have slipped through the cracks when you were first learning about their life. Benjamin Franklin was not only able to create several revolutionary inventions that had a dramatic effect on the world, but he also provided a shining example of the type of positive outlook and focus that all men and women possess. His life serves as an example of how to truly live as a great human being, one that cares for the wellbeing of others massively more than their own financial status. In a time where money seems to dominate almost every facet of daily life, there is much to learn from Franklin's exemplarily life and his innovative explorations.





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