Ben Franklin was not only a writer and political
figure, but he was also a scientist and inventor. In his own time, his
fame came primarily from his experiments with electricity. Due to his
scientific pursuits and his desire to improve the lives of his fellow
men, Franklin created a number of practical inventions, many of which we
still use today. You can read about each of these Benjamin Franklin inventions below.
So, what did Franklin invent?
Bifocals - Franklin is generally credited with the
invention of bifocals, though they may have been the combined invention
of several individuals over many years, 1783-1784.
Flexible urinary catheter - Franklin created a
flexible catheter that replaced the hard tube that was used as a
catheter in his day, a catheter is inserted in the urethra and allows
urine to pass out of the bladder relieving the patient.
Franklin stove - Franklin created this improvement
to the traditional fireplace in 1742, it created more heat and used less
firewood. Most fireplaces in the United States to this day are based on
Glass armonica - Franklin created this instrument
around 1758 while in England. He had seen someone play on water filled
wine glasses and improvised the horizontal spindle containing 37 bowls
powered by a foot pedal, allowing the player to play up to ten bowls at
once which was impossible on wine glasses. Here is a short video of
Caroline Skinner of Philadelphia playing a modern recreation of
Franklin's glass armonica:
Lightning rod - Ben Franklin's
discoveries regarding the behavior of electricity led him to create the
lightning rod in 1752. A lightning rod is placed on the highest part of
a building with a wire connected to it that runs down the building and
into the ground to divert electrical energy from a lightning strike down
the wire and into the ground rather than damaging the building.
Franklin's invention made him a household name throughout Europe and
America. Shortly after his discovery, lightning rods were placed on
buildings in Europe and America, including the Pennsylvania State House (which was later called Independence Hall) and the Academy of Philadelphia (which became the University of Pennsylvania). Read more about Ben Franklin and his electrical studies here.
Ferguson's Clock - Franklin created a clock that
told hours, minutes and seconds using three wheels and two pinions that
was more efficient than most clocks of the day. The design was improved
upon by James Ferguson, hence the name Ferguson's Clock.
Streetlights - Franklin created the commonly used
four pane street light that is seen across America in order to increase
the efficiency of public lighting systems. In the previous design, which
were globe shaped, the fixtures grew dark within a few hours due to the
accumulation of soot from the burning oil. Franklin's design prevented
the panes from being blackened with soot and allowed them to glow
brightly all night!
Carriage Odometer - There were various types of
odometers in use since ancient times, but Franklin created a new version
around 1763 to track the miles traveled in a carriage. He was
particularly interested in knowing how many miles he was traveling as
the first Postmaster General of the United States and in measuring the distance of the various postal routes.
Library chair - As an avid reader, Ben devised
several improvements for the common reading chair. He added a fan that
was operated by a foot pedal, and created a reversible seat that allowed
the chair to act as a chair or as a small step ladder with which to
reach books that were too high.
Extension arm - Franklin created the long stick
which is used to reach books on shelves that are too high. In order to
grasp the books, the arm had two fingers at the end which were closed by
pulling on a rope at the bottom end, 1785.
Swim fins - Ben Franklin became an expert swimmer at a young age in the sea around Boston.
Around 1717, he devised fins that fit on his hands. They were shaped
like a lily pad and helped Ben swim faster! He would have been only
eleven years old at the time of the invention!