Benjamin Franklin inventions - 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.
Benjamin Franklin Inventions
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 his design.
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!