What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin

Trista - January 4, 2019

While Benjamin Franklin might be best known for flying a kite in a thunderstorm, he never actually flew a kite. Founding Father and scientist Benjamin Franklin was actually afraid of thunderstorms, so he took shelter in a little shed in his yard as his son, William Franklin, flew a kite. Even though it was not Benjamin Franklin that flew a kite, this does not mean Franklin was not part of a breakthrough with electricity during that thunderstorm in 1752. Of course, this is only one of the many interesting facts about Benjamin Franklin. Keep reading to learn more about this one-of-a-kind American icon.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
An illustration of Benjamin and William Franklin’s kite experiment. Julian Trubin.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin (center) at work on a printing press. Reproduction of a Charles Mills painting by the Detroit Publishing Company. US Library of Congress Prints/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

30. Benjamin Franklin Became A Popular Writer As A Teenager

Benjamin’s father, Josiah, believed that skill was better than education. Therefore, he sent a teenage Benjamin to go to work with his brother, James, who had just opened a printing press. While Benjamin was interested in printing, he was more interested in writing, but James would not allow Benjamin to write anything. However, this did not stop young Ben as he started to write articles at night and slide them under the door for James to find. Benjamin never used his name, so James did not know it was Benjamin writing the articles, at least not until later.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Franklin on the Series 2009 hundred dollar bill.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

29. Benjamin Franklin Remade The Alphabet

Even though Benjamin Franklin did not receive much formal education, he was self-taught and highly intelligent. He was also a fantastic writer and often got irritated by everyone else’s writing. Benjamin felt that people did not spell words correctly because some letters of the alphabet did not make sense. Therefore, Benjamin decided to make his own phonetic alphabet in hopes that it would make more sense to people. Not only did he add six new letters, but Benjamin took out the redundant consonants of C, J, Q, W, X, and Y.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin’s first suggestion of a plan like Daylight Saving Time appeared in the Journal de Paris in 1784 in its “Economie” section. Pennsylvania Center for the Book/Wikimedia.

28. Benjamin Franklin Suggested The Idea Of Daylight Savings Time

While Benjamin Franklin did not start Daylight Savings Time as we know it today, he did mention the concept. Franklin’s idea of Daylight Savings Time happened when he was living in France during 1784 and became annoyed when the sun kept waking him up at 6 in the morning. Franklin then wrote an article about how business owners would be able to make more money if they followed the time of the sun. However, this idea never took off in Franklin’s time.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
A portrait of Benjamin Franklin from 1767. David Martin/The White House Historical Association/History Is Now.

27. Franklin Only Received Two Years Of Formal Education

Benjamin Franklin grew up in a time where formal education was not a guarantee and Franklin was no exception. His father, Josiah, did not believe that his children needed a formal education as he felt that learning a trade would help his children succeed more. However, this did not mean that Franklin did not receive any formal training. At eight years old, Franklin attended the South Grammar School and then went on to George Brownell’s English School. When Franklin was ten years old, his father pulled him out of school to become an apprentice.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
The Committee of Five presenting their work to the Congress.
John Trumbull – US Capitol/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

26. Only Founding Father To Sign All Four Documents About America’s Independence

Benjamin Franklin is one of the most notable Founding Fathers in the history of the United States of America. He is also the only founding father who signed all four documents about America’s independence. Not only was Benjamin Franklin the oldest Founding Father to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but he also signed the Treaty of Alliance with France in 1778, the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and the United States Constitution in 1787.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin’s bifocals. Franklin Institute.

25. Benjamin Franklin Never Patented An Invention

Throughout his life, Benjamin Franklin created several items ranging from bifocals to musical instruments. However, for whatever reason, Franklin never once sent any of his inventions in for a patent. Today, many people find this strange because Franklin could have received a lot of credit and money for many of his devices, especially the ones we still use today. Historians who have studied Franklin believe that Franklin did not request patents for his inventions because it was against his beliefs. Franklin thought that we should share our designs as long as they can help others.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
“The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle for all the British Plantations in America”, Vol. 1, January, 1741 Philadelphia, Printed and Sold by B. Franklin. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

24. Benjamin Franklin Retired At A Young Age

Benjamin Franklin started working around the age of 10 when his father, Josiah, pulled him out of school. At first, Franklin worked in the family soap business, but as a teenager, he went to help his brother in the printing business. This transition was when Franklin started writing. He left his brother’s printing business and went to start up his own. Eventually, he began writing and publishing the “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” This series became so popular that Franklin was able to retire at the age of 42.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, circa 1877, in his fur hat, charmed the French with what they perceived as rustic New World genius. Wikimedia Commons.

23. Benjamin Franklin Was The Richest Person in America At The End Of His Life

Benjamin Franklin had to sail back to the United States of America from France in 1785 due to declining health. Upon his arrival, he would become the wealthiest man in America. Franklin lived out the rest of his life as one of the richest people in the United States. At the time of his death, in 1790, Benjamin Franklin was worth about 43 million dollars. However, some have valued his estate to be worth closer to $10 billion today.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Deborah Read Franklin, circa 1759, was the common-law wife of Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Wilson – The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

22. Benjamin Franklin Rarely Lived With His Common-Law “Wife”

Benjamin Franklin met a woman by the name of Deborah Read when he was 17 years old. They got had a ceremony about five years later but never married. It was not long after their ceremony when Franklin started to travel to France. Soon, Franklin was in France so much that he lived there more than with his family in America. Near the end of her life, Deborah would send letters to her husband requesting him to come home because she was lonely. Franklin would visit but he never really moved back to live in America until near his death.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Portrait of William Franklin. Mather Brown/Wikipedia Commons/Public Domain.

21. Benjamin Franklin Had An Illegitimate Son

Benjamin Franklin’s oldest child was a son by the name of William who was born in 1730. While no one known who William’s biological mother is, we do know that Deborah raised William as her own child. When William was little, Deborah would spend a lot of time with him, however, as he got older, Deborah’s relationship will William became strained. In fact, by the time that William was a teenager, Deborah and William barely spoke to each other.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin quote. AZquotes.

20. Benjamin Wrote A Essay About Farting

In 1781, Benjamin Franklin wrote a scientific essay about farting and published it. This essay not only talks about why humans need to fart, looking at it through a scientific way, but it also discusses that people can use the smell of farts to better their body odor. Franklin believed that if we studied the smell of farts, we would learn what was good to eat and what was not good to eat. He felt that if we ate what smelled the best, once it passed, we would have better body odor.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
The Committee in charge of drafting the Declaration of Independence: delegates John Adams of Massachusetts, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania. Benjamin Franklin History.

19. Benjamin Franklin Wrote An Essay Which Angered The British Government

Benjamin Franklin was a very opinionated person, and he often wrote his opinions down in the form of an essay where he would then publish it. One of these essays was about how the population of the American Colonies was growing so fast that he believed it would surpass the people of Great Britain within 100 years. This idea angered the British Government so much that it gave them more of a push to start the American Revolution.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Also referred as the Abolition Society. It was the first of its kind in the colonies and served as inspiration for other societies. Benjamin Franklin History.

18. Benjamin Franklin Tried To Abolish Slavery

While Benjamin Franklin owned two slaves throughout his life, they helped him in his printing office, and at home, he would eventually become an abolitionist. Benjamin’s belief in abolition grew in the 1760s after he became impressed by the work ethic of his slaves. In the 1760s, Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend that he was surprised by their intelligence and felt if, given the opportunity, they could do great things. By the time Franklin passed away, he had been the president of the abolitionist group that pushed for the education of the African race so that they could live freely.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
The Glass Armonica designed by Benjamin Franklin in 1761. Franklin Institute.

17. Mozart and Beethoven used Benjamin Franklin’s Harmonica Invention

Benjamin Franklin invented the glass armonica, also known as harmonica, in 1761. Originally the harmonica was created as a gift to his daughter so that they could play music together. Franklin made the glass harmonic while he worked as a glassblower in London. He put about a dozen glass bowls together, each with their own size, shape, and sound. This invention quickly took off in London and soon famous musicians, such as Beethoven and Mozart were composing music with it. Unfortunately, the glass harmonica would become a forgotten instrument by the 1820s.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
American Revolutionary War battle painting. Pamela Patrick White/White Historic Art.

16. Benjamin Franklin Was The Last Founding Father To Get On Board

Benjamin Franklin did not believe that the American Colonies should separate from Great Britain until right around the time of the American Revolution. In fact, Franklin was the last Founding Father to join the committee in coming up with the documents so American could become an independent country. The turning point for Franklin was when Britain wanted to tax the American Colonies over the French and Indian War. Franklin wrote and published two essays about the issue. The British government wanted to find the originals so that they could arrest Franklin for treason, but they never saw the originals.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Ben Franklin funny meme. Joseph Failll/Tumblr/Lolzhumor.

15. Benjamin Franklin Known For His Humor

Benjamin Franklin liked to tell jokes and his known for his humor. In fact, many people believed that Franklin could not have a conversation without saying a joke. This truth is the biggest reason why they did not task Benjamin Franklin with writing the draft of the Declaration of Independence. The other Founding Fathers did not want Franklin to write the draft because they were all afraid he would put too much humor into the Declaration of Independence and no one would take it seriously.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
A painting of William Temple Franklin by John Trumbull oil on canvas 1790-1791. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

14. William Franklin Supported The British

Even after Benjamin Franklin joined the Continental Congress and became a Founding Father, his oldest son, William Franklin, continued to support Great Britain. William did not believe that the American Colonies should separate from Britain, not even when his father joined on the side of the Patriots. In fact, William felt so strongly towards the British that he refused to give up his position as royal governor of New Jersey, which sent him to a colonial prison.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin and William Franklin during the kite experiment. Hulton Archive/Getty Images/The New Republic.

13. Benjamin Franklin Became Estrange From William

Before the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin and his oldest son, William, had a wonderful relationship. Unfortunately, the father and son became estranged when Benjamin started fighting for American independence and William continued to support the British. Franklin wrote his son out of his will after William refused to step down as royal governor of New Jersey. Franklin spoke to William for the last time in the 1780s, when Franklin was traveling back to America from France.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
The Gulf Stream is an ocean current that carries warm water up the eastern coast of the United states and Canada and on to western Europe. A map that features the Gulf Stream. Scijinks.

12. Franklin Became The First Person To Map The Gulf Stream

In total, Benjamin Franklin made about eight trips along the Atlantic Ocean. Because of this, he started to know the waters well. Franklin also noted that there was something off about the maps along the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, Franklin took it upon himself to fix the map. He corrected the route by adding what became known as the Gulf Stream, which is a swift and warm current that originates from the Gulf of Mexico and stretches to the tip of Florida.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin wrote of a swim fin prototype of wooden paddles he placed on his hands that he used as youngster to help him swim faster. Sutori.

11. Benjamin Franklin’s Created His First Invention As A Child

Benjamin Franklin started to create his invention at the age of 11. Actually, his first invention known to date is that of a swim fin. While Franklin’s drawing of a wooden swim fin is different from the swim fins we use today, it had the same concept. However, this does not mean that Franklin’s swim fin invention has gone unnoticed. Franklin’s swim fin invention even won him a spot in the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Lady Howe mating Benjamin Franklin 1867 painting by Edward Harrison May. Yale University/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

10. Franklin Received An Induction Into The Chess Hall Of Fame

Benjamin Franklin became a pioneer in many areas of everyday life. Other than creating the first swim fin, Franklin also became known as a great Chess player. In fact, Franklin had a strong passion for the game of Chess and received an induction into the United States Chess Hall of Fame in 1999. Historians came to find that while the game was not popular in Franklin’s time, he often made it popular wherever he lived at the time.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
The Benjamin Franklin Memorial. Franklin Institute.

9. Franklin Received Honorary Degrees

Benjamin Franklin only received two years of formal education, from the ages of eight to ten, before his father, Josiah, pulled him out of school to begin working in the family’s soap business. However, this did not stop Benjamin Franklin from becoming one of the most significant historical figures in United States history. It also did not stop colleges, such as Yale University, England’s Oxford University, William and Mary, and Harvard University, from awarding Benjamin Franklin with Honorary college degrees.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Franklin’s 13 virtues. Paul Helmick.

8. Franklin Strived To Live By 13 Virtues

Benjamin Franklin tried to live the best life he could. Every day, Franklin would work to be a better person than he was the day before. In order to help himself in his quest, around the age of 20, Franklin created a list of 13 virtues. Every day, Franklin would pick an attribute and work on acting it out the best way he could. In his mind, Franklin believed that these virtues would lead him to become the best person he could be.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
An illustration of Benjamin Franklin as a firefighter. All That’s Interesting.

7. Benjamin Franklin Started The First Volunteer Fire Department

As stated before, Benjamin Franklin wrote about anything he felt or believed people could improve on. One of these issues was the need for better fire protection. Through a series of articles, he wrote and published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Franklin discussed the idea of better fire protection, and soon others came into action to help with this idea. Together, this group of people established the Union Fire Company of Pennsylvania in December of 1736, which makes this the first volunteer fire department. Over time, the fire department also became known as Benjamin Franklin’s Bucket Brigade.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
A painting of Benjamin Franklin. Education Reviews.

6. Benjamin Franklin Was A Fashion Icon

It seems that nearly everything Benjamin Franklin did in his life, he succeeded. This concept is even real when it came down to fashion. While Benjamin Franklin wore the same types of suits that many other men of his day and social class wore, he became known as a fashion icon in France. This idea was especially true when Franklin would wear his plain American clothes with a rustic fur hat. This look especially caught on for women of the time, and soon they were wearing fur hats wherever they went.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin and skeleton bones in the dirt. Vintage News.

5. Human Bones Were Found In Franklin’s Basement

Franklin lived in London for nearly 20 years while he was an ambassador for America. During this time, Franklin lived in a home which was renovated by the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House in 1998. The plan was to restore the house so it could become a museum. While this house is now a museum, during renovation contractors found more than 1,000 human bones in the basement. Of course, this secret was taken to the grave by Franklin so we may never know exactly why but some believe it was because Franklin was into the anatomy.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography book. Aliens in the Apple.

4. Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography Is Still The Most Popular Book In Its Genre

Benjamin Franklin started writing his autobiography early in his life. He would work on a little bit here and there and then not touch it for years. However, in 1771, Benjamin Franklin realized he was getting old and began to work nearly around the clock to get his autobiography completed. While he did finish his autobiography years before his death but never published it in his lifetime, today, Franklin’s autobiography is a classic piece of literature in its genre and still a top-rated book.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
The first U.S. postage stamp: Ben Franklin (Red Brown) 5 Cents (Scott #1) U.S. Post Office, 1847. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

3. Franklin Nearly Died In A Fire

Like with most people of his time, Benjamin Franklin enjoyed going to see shows. During his time, he saw many plays in theaters and opera houses. However, one performance in 1781 would almost cause his death. As Benjamin Franklin was enjoying the show with the rest of the crowd, a fire started in the theater. Of course, it became chaos as people were trying to leave and Franklin, along with many others, barely escaped the burning building, which was destroyed by the fire.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin. Library of Congress.

2. Benjamin Franklin Was A Librarian

Benjamin Franklin not only started the first volunteer fire department in Pennsylvania, but he also started the first lending library. In 1731, Benjamin Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia. This library was a bit different than what we know of libraries today, but it did create the foundation for the modern-day free public libraries. Franklin not only served as a librarian for the library, but he also served as the library’s secretary from 1746 until 1757.

What All History Lovers Should Know About Benjamin Franklin

First lending library known as the Library Company of Philadelphia by Charles Mills murals. Benjamin Franklin History.

1. Franklin Created An Arm To Reach Books

Throughout his life, Benjamin Franklin had a love for books and what would become known as libraries. While Benjamin Franklin was not a short person, his height was about 5 feet, 9 inches; he still had trouble reaching books that were on the top shelves. Therefore, Franklin did what he knew to do and invented contraception which would help him reach these books. Franklin invented a mechanical arm which someone could wear that would allow them to help get the books on the top shelves.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Benjamin Franklin and His Son, Divided by Independence.” Matthew Simpson, New Republic. July 2017.

“Abolitionist.” PBS.

“Franklin’s Glass Harmonica.” The Franklin Institute.

“Benjamin Franklin’s illegitimate son William was exiled to Britain because of his Loyalist activities during the American Revolutionary War.” Ian Harvey, Vintage News. March 2017.

“Benjamin Franklin Facts.” Fact Slides.

“33 Things You Never Knew About Benjamin Franklin.” All That’s Interesting. July 2017.

“Ben Franklin and Chess.” Batgirl, Chess. August 2013.

“Renovation of Benjamin Franklin’s home reveals 1200 human bones in his basement.” Ian Harvey, Vintage News. June 2016.

“Benjamin Franklin, Friend of Libraries.” Larry T. Nix, The Library History Buff. January 2012.