5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Benjamin Franklin

On April 17, 1790, one of America's founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, passed away in Philadelphia at the age of 84. How much do you really know about this American icon? Here are five interesting facts you probably didn't know about the man on the $100 bill...


He Had 16 Brothers and Sisters. # Portrait of Ben Franklin by Joseph Duplessis (1785). Image source: WikiCommons Talk about a big family. Ben's dad, Josiah Franklin, had 17 children between two different wives. Ben was child #8 for his dad's second wife and the 15th overall kid in the bunch. He was Josiah's youngest son and by far the most successful member of the family. Ben's older brother, James, owned the print shop where Ben got the start that would eventually lead him to own the Pennsylvania Gazette at the age of 22.

He Invented a Lot More Than Just Bifocals. # The first American instrument: the glass armonica. Invented by Ben Franklin and played by both Mozart and Beethoven. Image source: WikiCommons Most of us know Benjamin Franklin was responsible for bifocals and the lightning rod. But, did you know he also invented the wood-burning stove? How about the armonica (a glass instrument used by both Mozart and Beethoven)? America's first Renaissance man also invented the modern urinary catheter (yikes). And here's a really random one: at just 11 years old, he invented swim fins. All of this in addition to being a leader of the American Revolution. Needless to say, the man was busy.


He Also Tried to Invent a New Alphabet. It Failed. Known as a man who always looked for ways to be more efficient, Franklin had his fair share of issues with the English alphabet. He hated the redundancy of several letters—namely C, J, Q, W, X, and Y—and published a proposed phonetic alphabet with six new letters to replace the ones he felt were unnecessary. Needless to say, the experiment was not one of his big successes. 

His Son Was a Hardcore British Loyalist. Move over Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker—here's the real-life version of the dark-side versus the light. Ben's illegitimate son, William, was an outspoken British loyalist who spent two years in a New Jersey prison before running off to England at the end of the Revolution. While Ben himself was slow on the revolutionary uptake himself (he was an advocate for peace and compromise all the way until 1775), William's betrayal was enough to get him cut completely out of his father's will.

His Last Years Were Spent Fighting Slavery. Though Franklin did own two slaves during his lifetime, his old age brought on some new wisdom, and in 1787—three years before his death—Franklin took over the presidency of a Pennsylvania abolitionist society. Before he died in 1790, Franklin presented a petition to Congress calling for the freeing of slaves. Congress ignored the petition (slavery wouldn't end for another 75 years), but Franklin was undeterred. When he died a few months later, his will stipulated that his two legitimate children free their slaves in order to receive their inheritance. Well played, Ben.

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