One of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin rose from humble beginnings as one of 17 children to become an inventor, a scientist, a printer, a philosopher, a musician an economist, a statesman, a founder of many organizations and a well-respected man. Franklin was always experimenting and inventing for the greater good and not for his profit. Despite his generosity, he made a very good name for himself and lived comfortably until his death in 1790 at the age of 84. Below are some interesting facts about Franklin’s life, including his most notable inventions and some of the accomplishments of which he was the most proud.
1. Benjamin Franklin was born the 15th of 17 children
2. Ben Franklin often experimented with electricity
His experiments began with a Leyden jar, a container than was able to store static electrodes. The jar was invented by Ewald Georg von Kleist and Pieter van Misschenbroek. Franklin received his jar and began to develop theories about electricity based on his findings. He also believed that lightning is an electric occurrence and believed he had the ability to prove his thought.
3. Ben Franklin was the first person to organize a volunteer fire company
In 1736, Benjamin Franklin saw a need for volunteer fire fighters, and proceeded to open The Union Fire Company in response. The volunteer fire fighters, with Franklin as their leader, wrote and published articles that taught every person how to prevent fires and how to take care of hazardous tasks in the most careful way possible. Warning people of the possibility of starting an accidental fire and becoming trapped in their homes, Franklin eloquently wrote, “scraps of fire may fall into the chinks and make no appearance until midnight, when your stairs being in flames, you may be forced to leap out of your windows and hazard your necks to avoid being over-roasted.”
In addition to the volunteer squad, Franklin was the first American to create a fire insurance company. It was called the Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss By Fire.
4. One of Ben Franklin’s most famous inventions was the Franklin Stove
Built in 1742, Franklin invented the stove, which he called the Pennsylvania Fireplace, to be a safer way to heat a house than the tradition fireplace method. The stove was built from metal and was open to the room to allow heat to flow outward. It also had openings in the rear area to allow more oxygen to fuel the fire and more heat to escape. Ben Franklin never patented his stove, despite urgings from friends and business people. He unselfishly said, “As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”
5. Franklin wrote the first Poor Richard’s Almanac
Ben Franklin often wrote with a pseudonym. In 1732, he published his first Poor Richard’s Almanac. The small book was full of calendars, weather predictions, poems, passages, information about astronomy and astrology, mathematical games and puzzles.
6. Ben Franklin assisted in the establishment of the first hospital in America
Pennsylvania Hospital, the first hospital in America, was founded in 1751 by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin. These two men were worried about the health of people in their beloved city, and wished to provide a place to care for the sick, poor and insane. They presented their idea to the Assembly along with a petition, but it met some adversity. Ben Franklin proposed that he would raise 2000 pounds, and if he was able to do so, the Assembly would have to match that amount, and agree to build the hospital. They agreed, thinking that Franklin would not be able to raise such a large amount of money. However, he went above this amount in his efforts, and thus, the Assembly signed the bill.
7. Franklin invented the armonica (later known as the glass harmonica)
Benjamin Franklin was a musical man. He was known to have played the violin, harp and guitar. Being that he was also an inventor, it is almost inevitable that he invented his own musical instrument. The small piece of furniture with the glass bowls inside came to be known as the glass armonica. The armonica looked like a small side table with a barrel vaulted flip top. When opened, the piece of furniture revealed a series of glass bowls on one axis. The axis spun the bowls, and a damp finger was applied to the spinning glass. Each bowl produced a different note. Beethoven and Mozart loved the instrument and composed specific songs to be played on Franklin’s armonica.
8. Ben Franklin helped to found the University of Pennsylvania
In 1749, Franklin wrote the “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania”. In his proposal, he wrote about a college that could offer both practical and classical teachings to prepare youth for the rest of their lives. One year later, the Trustees of the Academy bought a building and in 1751, the Academy and Charity School opened for students. In 1765, the school founded for the first School of Medicine in North America. In 1779, the school was renamed theUniversity of the State of Pennsylvania.
9. Franklin invented dozens of items
One of his inventions is the library stepstool, a special chair that could be folded in such a way that it became a small ladder. He also invented a mechanical arm to be used in libraries to reach books that were on very high shelves. Ben Franklin was the first person to outfit a chair with curved pieces of wood, creating the first rocking chair. He also saw a need for a classroom solution that he called the “writing chair”. This chair is still often used today and is a chair with a writing desk attached to the side. Franklin invented the odometer, a variant of a ship’s anchor, a new candle made from whale oil that lasted much longer than previous candles, a new streetlight, a door locking mechanism that he could lock and unlock from his bed and bifocal glasses.
10. Ben Franklin founded the first public library in the colonies
In the 18th century, books were a luxury item for most residents, and were only available to the very wealthy. In 1731, Franklin, along with a philosophical association, wrote the Articles of Agreement, forming to outline for the first public lending library. The Junto philosophical association each signed up, paying 40 shillings each to build the base for their book collection. Each person agreed to invest 10 additional shillings annually to build the collection and maintain the library. The library continued to grow and flourish during Franklin’s life and remains open today at 1314 Locust Street in Philadelphia.