Ben Franklin has many of his tales told during the school years. Who doesn’t know about him flying a kite with a key attached to the control string during a thunderstorm so that he could study the effects of electricity? Considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, his sense of humor and inventiveness was sometimes considered profound, sometimes a little unusual, but always within the spirit of humbleness. Franklin has monuments to him around the world because he fought for peace so very often.
In honor of this humble, inventive man, here are some of the most interesting facts there are about Ben Franklin.
1. Ben Franklin Came From a Very Large Family
Franklin has 16 brothers and sisters. He was the 8th child to the second wife, which meant he was the 15th of the 17 children. By the age of 12, he started working at the print shop with several of his brothers, which became a passion of his throughout his entire life. Even during his world travels, when asked about what he did, Franklin would always say that he was a printer.
It was in seeing the words being printed at the family shop that Franklin became inspired to write his own works. He brought his initial writings to his brothers for publication, but like any good family, they told Franklin that the writings weren’t good enough. This inspired him to take a second and third look at his thoughts and the world is grateful for that initial refusal because many of Franklin’s writings are still read today.
2. He Loved to Help Others in Unusual Ways
Franklin believed that the only way to be able to lose oneself was to spend a life serving others or the common good in some way. He loved giving back to his community and so he spent time serving as a volunteer firefighter. There might have been a certain selfishness to his work as a firefighter, however, because he wrote several articles on fire safety.
It didn’t just stop there. Franklin is also credited with the idea of having a lending library in each community and the need for a public hospital. Even the University of Pennsylvania came about because of the ways that Franklin looked to help others.
3. The Best Thoughts Came From Beer
If there was one thing that Franklin held dear, it was an opposing opinion. He believed that there was a lot of value in the viewpoints of someone from a different background, so he assembled a group that was called the Junto. A dozen men made up this group and they met every Friday in a tavern because the best thoughts always come from several beers and opposing views.
These meetings, however, became the inspiration for many of the ideas that Franklin had. Starting at the age of 21, he held a Junto for most of his life on a weekly basis.
4. Patents Were an Idea From the Devil
There are a number of inventions that are credited to Franklin, but the Pennsylvania Fireplace is perhaps the one true classical invention that he ever created. He could have patented his stove to try to make a lot of money, but Franklin refused to patent the stove or seek out profits from it. He always said that the best reward was knowing that people would be warm in the cold depths of a New England winter.
His stove had some design problems, but it was an improvement over an open fireplace. It wasn’t long before others improved the Pennsylvania Fireplace so that it was more efficient and that helped people stay warmer while using less fuel.
5. Is It Good or Is It Bad?
How many times have you been encouraged to make a list of pros and a list of cons when there is an important decision that needs to be made? The first documented lists of this practice are attributed to Franklin, although it’s probably been used through human history in some form. The whole purpose of creating the list, at least according to Franklin, was to compare the risks and rewards so that he could strike out specific points and come to a logical conclusion.
The whole process that Franklin used, however might have seemed logical to him, but it was rather complicated. Sometimes 1 pro would strike out two cons. Sometimes three pros would strike out 5 cons. Sometimes Franklin would wait 48 hours and decide that some pros were actually cons or that others didn’t hold the same striking value. “I come to a decision accordingly,” he told Joseph Priestly. Priestly was probably tempted to throw the letter into his Pennsylvania fireplace.
6. Mozart Used Franklin’s Inventions
The Glass Harmonica, or the “armonica” as Franklin called it, was a modification of the classic glass organ. It’s called the first instrument that was created in the United States and it made sounds by spinning glass bowls on a spindle with a foot petal. What made the design unique was that 10 bowls could be played simultaneously and the harmonies became so popular that Mozart even composed music specifically for Franklin’s invention.
The sounds were a bit eerie, perhaps ghostly in nature, and eventually this caused the glass harmonica to fall out of favor. It probably didn’t help that people began to think that hearing the sounds would cause insanity too. At one point, it was even recommended that if you were feeling sad, it would be clinically advisable to stop playing the instrument.
7. Spelling Was a Passion… So He Changed the Alphabet
Franklin wasn’t known for hating things, but he did hate how the English language was structured. Instead of the different letters that we currently have, he recommended changing the language so that new letters that were more phonetically correct would be added so that words could actually look how they sounded. He created 6 new letters for sounds that he believed needed better graphical representation and even commissioned a type foundry to prepare the letters, but interest in his alphabet never really developed.
Perhaps it was because Franklin also wanted to get rid of some letters because he found them to be redundant. As another unusual component of the alphabet, there were no uppercase letters to be found. He used the alphabet to flirt with his landlord’s daughter, so perhaps it was more of a codex more than an actual language reform attempt.
8. Air Baths Were Just One Self-Improvement Focus
Franklin believed that the human body deserved to be in the outdoors so that it could purge itself of uncleanliness. Bathing in water made sense to cleanse, but air was also necessary to interact with the skin so that the body could be energized. That’s why if you happened upon Franklin in a private moment, you might just find him working in the nude.
Self-improvement was a definite focus of Franklin’s that was evidenced over time. He believed that other cultures were just as important as his own, so he worked to become fluent in several languages so that he could effectively interact with them. By the time he was done, he could read Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, and English. If you could his alphabet, then you could say he knew 6 languages in total.
9. It Didn’t Exist Yet, But Franklin Believed in the Second Amendment
Franklin’s Philadelphia was one that was filled with great strife. It was a free-for-all for all of Europe because everyone wanted a stake in the New World and its wealth. To that extent, it wasn’t uncommon for French or Dutch troops to come attack the city in order to get a piece of the pie. Franklin organized a local militia and armed it because the government didn’t want to do so and they defended the city. He got the money by sponsoring a lottery.
One of his most famous encounters was with the Paxton Boys. These immigrants were angered by local tribes who were attacking settlers, so they attacked them back and killed many Native Americans, but mostly from a peaceful tribe who had done nothing against them. Inspired by their easy victory, the Paxton Boys marched on Philadelphia. Franklin convinced them through the mobilization of his militia that it wasn’t such a good idea.
Of the encounter, Franklin once recounted this: “If it be right to kill Men for such a Reason, then, should any Man, with a freckled Face and red Hair, kill a Wife or Child of mine, it would be right for me to revenge it, by killing all the freckled red-haired Men, Women and Children, I could afterwards anywhere meet with…”
Although the 2nd Amendment wasn’t around as of yet, it could be said that his actions helped to inspire the creation of it. The Supreme Court says that the rights in that amendment apply to the individual, but the right to form a militia and arm it? Franklin proved that was a worthwhile right to have.