Things You Didn't Know About Benjamin Franklin

Updated on October 12, 2016

Everyone has heard of Benjamin Franklin, but how much do you actually know about this guy?

Believe it or not, Benjamin Franklin did way more than just signing the Declaration of Independence and inventing the street lamp, library stool, electricity, the telegraph, the rocking chair, the writing chair, the odometer, the pulley system, and the flexible catheter. Yes, he was an inventor and a writer, but he was also a firefighter, an obnoxious little brother, and a world class swimmer.

Benjamin's 5 Most Well-known Inventions

- Bifocal glasses

- Electricity

- Telegraph

- Street Lamp

- Franklin Stove

Benjamin Franklin as pictured on the dollar bill.
Benjamin Franklin as pictured on the dollar bill.

Sibling Rivalries

Benjamin Franklin was one of seventeen. His father had seven children with his first wife and ten with his second. Benjamin was 15th in line. Because there were so many children, Benjamin went to work with his brothers starting from when he was 12 years old. In fact, it was in his brother's printing press that Benjamin's writing career got started. He asked his brother time and time again to print some of his works, but his brother always refused. Benjamin wasn't about to be deterred by his older brother/boss, so he took up the pen name Mrs. Silence Dogood and started submitting witty letters to be published. It worked. Benjamin's older bother started printing the letters and they enjoyed a good amount of success thanks to the humor of the 'middle aged widow' and her letters. It wasn't until 14 letters had been published that Benjamin's brother caught on to his ruse and he was absolutely furious. So what did Benjamin do? He walked out on his brother and the business, of course.

The Original Phelps

Benjamin Franklin was an outstanding swimmer. In fact, it seems as though he was half fish. Legend has it that Benjamin started swimming in the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and got really, really good. When he was 19, Benjamin gathered up some friends and went on a boating trip down the Thames. The ever-active manchild naturally got a little bit bored sitting in the boat, so he jumped into the water and started splashing around, performing water tricks and amusing everyone who was present. After a while, he started to swim. According to the story, Benjamin swam from Chelsea to Blackfriar's (nearly 4 miles). After this little exhibition, Benjamin set about to invent his own set of swim fins that would allow him to swim farther, faster, and do more cool water tricks.

Although swimming was basically just a pass time for Benjamin, he did think about opening up a swimming school and becoming an instructor. Sadly, that plan never came to fruition. Instead, Benjamin died without any kind of recognition for his water-defying feats. It wasn't until the 1960s that people realized just how much of a talent Benjamin had for swimming, and he was finally inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968.

Fight Fire With....

Benjamin Franklin created the first volunteer fire department and the first colonial insurance company, which allowed people to protect their houses from damage or loss by fire.

In 1736, at the ripe old age of 30, Benjamin Franklin decided to finally achieve his goal of being a firefighter. He created the Union Fire Company, a volunteer fire department in Philadelphia that originally consisted of 26 men. Because he was so influential and had such a passion for fire prevention, Benjamin was able to make sure that Philadelphia had everything it needed to keep losses due to fire damage to a minimum. The company was called "Benjamin Franklin's Bucket Brigade".

In addition to founding the very first volunteer fire department, Benjamin Franklin was also the first man to provide insurance that protected people from the losses due to fire damage. Twenty years after the establishment of the Union Fire Company, he opened an insurance company called the Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss By Fire. The idea was to help people protect each other.

Fire was something that Benjamin must have been extremely passionate about because, in addition to the fire department and the insurance company, Benjamin did some pretty extensive work on fire safety. Using his connections with the press and his superior writing skills, Benjamin published a number of articles and pamphlets throughout his life which focused on fire prevention, protection, and preparedness.

Pros & Cons

Benjamin Franklin was the first documented user of the modern pros & cons list. He laid out his whole method for decision making in a letter to Joseph Priestley in 1772, citing that he first made two columns and then took 3 or 4 days to consider the possibilities, writing down short headings or thoughts or motivations that pushed him to either side of the spectrum during that time. After making the list, he stated that he would sit down and set out to balance the list — removing pros and cons that seemed equally weighty — until he would come to a decision.

It was often said that Benjamin would use this method to keep himself from making, not only rash decisions, but also decisions that were too selfish or seemed to do nobody outside of himself any good. Talk about a cautious gentleman. Obama has nothing on Benjamin Franklin.

Pro/Con Method of Benjamin Franklin

Near Death Experiences

Benjamin Franklin almost died twice while he was experimenting with electricity, and he got knocked around quite a few more times. Although it has pretty much been unanimously decided that Benjamin was not the subject of the famous story in which a man flies a kite with a key attached outside in a lightening storm, there is no doubt that Benjamin Franklin experimented with live electricity on multiple occasions. On two of these occasions, the shock that he received was enough to knock him out for an extended period of time.

Because he was not very gifted in math and had no idea how to use advanced mathematical formulas, every experiment that Benjamin did was by trial and error using glass tubes, corks, wax, and iron.

The first time that this almost ended very badly for dear Benjamin was when he was trying to treat a paralyzed man with electric shocks. He thought that it was possible for electricity to help lessen or possibly even cure paralysis. The second time, Benjamin was innocently trying to kill a turkey with an electric shock and ended up shocking himself instead. Both times, he only survived because the current that went through his body was just a little bit too weak to kill him.

As he experimented with electricity, Benjamin Franklin had to invent a whole new vocabulary to describe what he was doing. Some words coined by Benjamin during this time were battery, charges, conductors, and the concept of positive and negative charges.

Significant Dates for Benjamin Franklin

1706 - Born in Boston

1715 - Final year of formal education

1722 - Becomes a vegetarian

1725 - Publishes first pamphlet

1730 - Takes a wife, Deborah Reid

1732 - Birth of son

1737 - Appointed postmaster of Philadelphia

1746 - Begins electrical experiments

1776 - Signs Declaration of Independence

1787 - Signs United States Constitution

1790 - Dies at the age of 84

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    • misterhollywood profile image

      John Hollywood 

      5 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      Love your hubs on Ben a Franklin! This one was very informative. I didn't know he created the first volunteer fire department!


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