The Inventions and Discoveries of Benjamin Franklin

“Well done is better than well said.”

Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street, in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1706. His schooling ended at 10 years old and he learned by reading from then on. He worked in printing for his brother James who founded The New-England Courant, which was one of the first American newspapers when Ben was 15 years old. In about 1730 he became a Free Mason, a grandmaster in 1734, and was a Mason the rest of his life.

Three-Wheeled Clock

His invention of the Three-Wheeled Clock was not recorded by him but a record, unbeknownst to Franklin, was kept by James Ferguson. Ben had seen similar clocks in Paris that gave him the idea. The clock had only 3 wheels and 2 pinions in the whole movement.

The largest wheel rotated in 4 hours and counts the minutes from any hour it has passed by, to the next following hour. The next wheel rotates in a quarter of an hour, 15 minutes, and the smallest in one minute, the second hand. According to Ferguson the design measured time exceedingly well and was the simplest design.

Franklin Stove

Franklin observed the problems with wood-burning stoves, which produced a lot of smoke, heat generated went up the chimney and sparks caused house fires. His Franklin stove, with a hoodlike enclosure in the front, and airbox in the rear, allowed for a more efficient fire. It used one-quarter of the wood and generated twice as much heat. America’s first fireplace insurance coverage firm was set by Ben Franklin in 1752.

Swim Fins

Franklin was an avid swimmer. At the young age of just eleven years old he invented swim fins. These fins were made to wear on the hands, not feet. He was inducted into the Worldwide Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968.

When a youth, I made two oval pallets, each about ten inches long, and six broad, with a hole for the thumb, in order to retain it fast in the palm of my hand. They much resembled a painter’s pallets. In swimming I pushed the edges of these forward, and I struck the water with their flat surfaces as I drew them back. I remember I swam faster by means of these pallets, but they fatigued my wrists. I also fitted to the soles of my feet a kind of sandals, but I was not satisfied with them, because I observed that the stroke is partly given by the inside of the feet and the ankles, and not entirely with the soles of the feet.

Benjamin Franklin – March 1773
Long Arm

As a bookworm, Franklin had lots of shelves full of books. They went up to the high ceiling and required a ladder to retrieve. In 1786, being ever-resourceful he solved the issue by inventing the “long arm,” which is just a wood pole with a claw in the end.

Flexible Catheter

Seeing his brother John suffer from bladder stones and having to use the inflexible (and painful) metallic tube catheters of that era, Franklin came up with a better solution. A catheter is a slim tube inserted right into an affected person’s urethra as a way to drain urine directly from the bladder.

Benjamin went to his local silversmith and asked him to make the flexible catheter he’d designed. He had imagined a tube made of small interlocked silver rings that allowed it to move more like a hose.

Lightning Rod

Lightning was the cause of many house fires in Franklin’s days. Franklin described an iron rod about 8 or 10 feet long that was sharpened to a point at the end. The rod would have a wire running down from it to the ground. The lightning rod constructed on the dome of the State House in Maryland was the largest “Franklin” lightning rod ever attached to a public or private building in Ben’s lifetime. It was built in accord with his recommendations and has had only one recorded instance of lightning damage.

…a universal blow throughout my whole body from head to foot, which seemed within as well as without; after which the first thing I took notice of was a violent quick shaking of my body…

Benjamin Franklin
Glass Armonica

I Franklin’s time it was common for amateur musicians to perform on sets of “singing” or musical glasses, which by the amount of water in each would sound differently. He really was intrigued by the sounds they made.

Working with a glassblower in London, Franklin made a few dozen glass bowls, tuned to notes by their varying size and fitted one inside the next with cork. Each bowl was made with the correct size and thickness to give the desired pitch without being filled with any water.

Franklin also painted them so that each bowl was color-coded to a different note. A hole was put through the center of the glass bowls, and an iron rod ran through the holes. The rod was attached to a wheel, which was turned by a foot pedal.

Moistened fingers touched to the edge of the spinning glasses produced the musical sounds. Benjamin would carry his Armononica on his travels and play tunes for people. Composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Donizetti would write music for the Armonica.


Tiring of wearing one pair of glasses to see far away and another to read Franklin sought a solution. The method he came up with to create a bifocal lens was to take the glass from two different lenses and cut them in half and fit them together.

This would naturally produce a very pronounced and visible line at the intersection of the two lenses in the field of vision. However this would have been a small price to pay in order to be able to see clearly both close up and in the distance.

Franklin Lights (Streetlamps)

Noticing that the glass luminaires on oil lamps found in London and Paris had to be frequently cleaned because of accumulating soot. Cleaning proved too time consuming and they were too fragile that an accidental stroke would demolish it. Franklin proposed a 4-paned surface with a funnel above and small holes or crevices admitting air below. This allowed the glass to stay clear. He also discovered that two wick tubes burning side by side a certain distance apart gave more light than two separate burners. Whale oil was used as fuel.


Franklin became Postmaster General in 1753 and sought to improve the post office service and make it more profitable. While not the inventor he designed an odometer that attached to the front wheel of the letter carriage which measured the number of revolutions of the wheel.

Each revolution was counted by dials and by the end of the trip the mailman would know the distance travelled by multiplying the number of revolutions by the circumference of the wheel. Franklin determined which routes were the quickest. He determined postal rates based on distance and weight and were standardized for all colonies. His improvements turned the American Post Offices profitable for the first time.

Other Inventions/Discoveries

The first Fire Division ever was begun by Benjamin Franklin in the year 1736 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was additionally the first to review the Gulf Stream and put it on a map. He established the University of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Pennsylvania[1].

When Franklin got to France as America’s first ambassador, Parisians snapped up all methods of Franklin kitsch. His picture was plastered on snuff bins and medallions, and engravings of the person adorned the partitions of any trendy French condominium.

  1. The Library Company of Philadelphia. is an independent research library concentrating on American society and culture from the 17th through the 19th centuries. Free and open to the public, the Library Company houses an extensive non-circulating collection of rare books, manuscripts, broadsides, ephemera, prints, photographs, and works of art. The Library Company is America’s first successful lending library and oldest cultural institution. It was founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin as a subscription library supported by its shareholders, as it is to this day.


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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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