Five Things You May Not Know About Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin is known to most Americans as a Founding Father, and that he had something to do with the uses of electricity. That's not a lot to go on for a historical figure. Franklin was a lot more than that, though, and here are some things he did as well.

1. He pranked his brother for years. When Benjamin Franklin turned sixteen, he got a job as a printer's apprentice. That printer happened to be his brother. When he was unable to get any of his own letters published, he slipped one under the door signed with the pseudonym of Silence Dogood (possibly a reference to the writing of Cotton Mather). He would write 14 letters over the years as Silence Dogood, a middle aged widow who had very strong opinions on the hypocrisy of religious figures, women's rights, hoop skirts, and the quality of education at Harvard. The letters were popular, and a few men even wrote in to propose marriage. His brother even posted an ad in his paper trying to find the mysterious Dogood. He wasn't pleased to find out it was his brother, and Franklin eventually left Boston for Philadelphia. The letters can be read here online.

2. He declared his competition dead. In 1732, Franklin published the first of his Poor Richard's Almanac, using the pseudonym Richard Saunders. While it was commonly known Saunders and Franklin were one and the same, he publicly denied the connection. Almanacs were common at the time, and another almanac publisher was a man named Titan Leeds. In the first edition of Poor Richard's Almanac, Franklin wrote that Leeds would die on October 17, 1733. When Leeds was still alive on that day, Franklin insisted that Leeds was really dead and the man claiming to be him was an impostor. He would insist Leeds was dead for years, only stopped by Leeds' actual death in 1738. Franklin then commended the "fake" Leeds for abandoning the charade.

3. He invented many items. Most people are aware Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod, but his other inventions included a cast-iron stove known as the Franklin stove, swim fins, and a musical instrument called the glass harmonica. He also created the nation's first lending library and fire department in Philadelphia. He is generally credited with the invention of bifocal glasses, but there is some debate about his responsibility for them. None of the things he invented were formally patented.

4. A state was named after him. If a state named Franklin isn't coming to mind, that's because it no longer exists. Franklin was a state declared after the Revolutionary War. It was located in eastern Tennessee. While it was intended to be the fourteenth state, by 1789 it collapsed and became part of North Carolina. (As a side note, the famous Davy Crockett was born in Franklin when it was still a state.)

5. He was the first Postmaster General. In addition to his printing work, he was postmaster in Philadelphia for almost two decades.

For anyone who wants to know more about Benjamin Franklin, his autobiography is free to read online.

(Photo via Wikipedia/Public Domain.)