Benjamin Franklin the Inventor

Jan 22, 2023 | Articles, Personal Triumphs, Science

Known as one of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin put America in debt. But he also put the whole world in debt. His biggest “invention” was the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. But Franklin, born in Boston in 1706, was even bigger inventor. Between running a print shop, starting the first lending library in America, engineering the postal system, and helping America during the Revolution, he found time to draw up many devices. And even though none of them was patented, Benjamin still receives credit as a big inventor. In his own words, his inventions were gift to the public: “That, 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”. He wrote this in his autobiography, referring his inventions that were models of practicality. Here are some of his biggest inventions.

Urinary Catheter

This might not be the most impressive invention on the list, but it is definitely extremely practical. The urinary catheter was already invented when Franklin tried tweaking it. But his modifications on the device provided welcome relief for hundreds of thousands of people around the world with the bladder problems.

The thin tube inserted into the urethra was designed to drain urine from the bladder. At the time though, catheters were rigid and painful metal tubes. Franklin was the one designing a flexible catheter, one that helped people with bladder problems feel no pain.

Swim Fins

Back in his younger days, Franking has an incredible physique. He credited swimming for his body. During his time in London in the 1750s, Franklin took daily dips in the Thames. And it all goes back to his younger days, when he was 11 year old.

Swim fins were his first invention. Back at the time, his swim fins were just a pair of oval planks with holes through their center. He used the fins to have a bit of “extra thrust underwater”.

As it appeared, the fins allowed him to swim faster, but they fatigued his wrists. So, he ditched them, and strapped boards to his feet like sandals. He gave up on them because they felt awkward and clunky. For his contributions to the swimming sport, he earned recognition in the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Glass Armonica

Franklin says that the glass armonica is his favorite invention. It has given him the greatest personal satisfaction. He invented the armonica when living in England as a diplomat. He stopped by at the Cambridge University regularly. One time, he listened to a concert by Edmund Delavel, who was a professional wine glass player.

The instrument looked like this: “a collection of wine glasses arranged on a table, and tuned by filling each glass with a different quantity of water”. He played by carefully rubbing the rims in succession.

Being a great inventor, Franklin noticed a room for improvement. For one, playing on wine glasses is time-consuming to set up. So he experimented. It took him two years, but he found a way to create music from glass without emptying the kitchen cupboards. The instrument made it to concert halls across Europe and America instantly.

The Long Arm

One of the most practical inventions is the long arm. Being a short guy, standing at just 5 feet and 11 inches, Benjamin couldn’t reach for books in the higher shelves. So, he had to invent a reaching device. He liked his books. By his late adulthood, his home always featured floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

His reaching device, or the Long Arm as some call it, was actually a piece of wood with two fingers mounted on the end. Nowadays, they are rarely seen in library, but long arm devices are popular among people needing extra reaching power.

The Stove

Yes, Franklin even invented the stove. They call it, the Franklin Stove. In his mind, fireplaces were inefficient. They consumed a large amount of fuel, and the heat shoots up in the chimney, not in the room. So, he had to find a way to produce heat in the room.

His solution? Enclosing fire in a cast-iron box positioned in the center of the room. Being in the center, the stove radiated heat from all four sides, and Franklin even made possible for users to control the rate of which wood burned. The stove not only provided heat, but also eliminated the risk of fires. Nowadays, the design is a staple for cabins and cottages.

Lightning Rod

Last, but not least invention on our list is the lightning rod. There are many more inventions by Benjamin Franklin, but we focus on the most important ones. In the 18th century, lighting was a supernatural scourge to wooden cities and buildings. Churches were vulnerable, as they were the tallest structures. That meant that a single electrical storm can destroy an entire region.

At 42, Franklin began experimenting with electricity full time. Countless hours spent on static electricity resulted with a metal rod. That metal rod could be fixed to the top of a building, wired to the ground, and extract fire from a cloud before doing any damage. Churches and cathedrals in Europe quickly adopted his protective rod. Also worth mentioning, during his work on the lightning rod, Franklin used words like battery, charge, positive, and negative, which were unknown to the world of science then.

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Thomas B.