Benjamin Franklin – More Than Just Clocks, Kites, And Keys

By now, we all know that Benjamin Franklin is to blame for Daylight Savings Time, and everyone’s heard the story about how he proved lightening contained electricity using a kite and an iron key, but there’s much more to Ben Franklin than just those two things. For instance, did you know he created the first fire insurance company in 1752? The following is a list of some lesser known, but none-the-less awesome facts about “The First American.”

Have you ever had a few drinks at a Country & Western bar, and, sufficiently sauced, decided to take a ride on a mechanical bull? Well, you can thank Benjamin Franklin for that! After many years of bad decision making when it came to his mechanical bull — which included causing causing third-degree burns on John Adams’ hindquarters — he finally managed to perfect his machine, which he presented to the medical community as a way of helping to maintain bowel regularity. Sadly, the medical community didn’t quite take to his invention, and thus, it was fated to sit in dark bars, waiting for scantily-clad, drunken cowgirls to take their turn.

If you enjoy taking books out at your local public library, that’s all because of Ben Franklin. Prior to 1751, books were only owned by the wealthy, but in that year, Benjamin came up with the idea of a fee-based subscription service, where members could trade books amongst themselves. This concept became the basis on which today’s public libraries stand.

Franklin was an avid swimmer, and when he was living in London, England, would often go for a dip in the Thames. One story even tells of his swimming 3.5 miles from Chelsea to Blackfriars. Due to his love of the water, he invented floaties. You know, those blow up water wings that you put on your kids’ arms when teaching them how to swim? Yeah, Benjamin Franklin invented those, though his were primitive and wooden.

After inventing an ill-conceived crotchless bee-keeping suit (Franklin was known to be quite the drinker, which caused him to urinate often), he solved his frequent urination problem by coming up with the prototype for the modern flexible catheter. You’re welcome. Don’t worry, Benjamin shelved his crotchless bee-keeping suit after learning a very painful lesson about what parts of the human anatomy should always be protected from things with stingers.

Before 1751, there was no public health system for the poor, so Benjamin became one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Hospital, the very first public hospital in the United States. The public hospital system that you are used to today was modelled on the Pennsylvania Hospital.

He also invented bifocals, the rocking chair, the first musical instrument in America, called the Glass Armonica (for which both Mozart and Beethoven composed music), the writing chair, the odometer, the Franklin stove, had a tree named after him (The Franklinia alatamaha), and, when working with electricity, invented words that we still use today, like “battery,” “charge,” “positive,” and “negative.”

It’s true that what amounted to a joke by good ol’ Benjamin Franklin has caused us all to lose an hour of sleep once a year, but, at the same time, he gave us some pretty awesome things as well. After all, everyone loves a ride on a mechanical bull.

[Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images]