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By 1785, he was the richest person in America.
They didn't put his face on the hundred dollar bill for nothing.
It's estimated that Franklin was worth about $10 billion by today's standards.Wikimedia Commons
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But he could have been a lot richer if he wanted to be.
Franklin could have made a lot more money if he had patented his inventions. However, he refrained from doing so because he believed that it was enough to know that others were helped by his creations.
Because of this, other tinkerers were free to work and improve on Franklin’s designs for free.Wikimedia Commons
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He was the only founding father to sign all four key documents in the founding of the U.S.
These included the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Treaty of Alliance with France in 1778, the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and the United States Constitution in 1787. Franklin was also the oldest to sign the Declaration of Independence at age 70 and then the Constitution at age 81.Wikimedia Commons
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He almost died trying to electrocute a turkey.
As most of us know, Franklin was really into electricity and he performed a lot of experiments with it, including using it to cook food. Eventually, he perfected a method of using electricity in order to kill and cook turkeys.
In the letter to his brother, John, which is pictured, Franklin detailed how he decided to show off this method at a party. He brought out a doomed turkey and started setting up the charge when, all of a sudden, the attendees saw a bright flash of light engulf him. He had electrocuted himself, although in the letter he confessed that his ego sustained the biggest injury.The Massachusetts Historical Society
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He published his obscene writing many times.
Franklin definitely did not shy away from the salacious. He once wrote a letter titled "Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress," which was considered obscene for that time and wasn’t published when his entire collection of papers was made available during the 19th century. The letter contained many sexual references and basically touted the virtues of choosing an older mistress over a younger one. Getty Images
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Franklin also wrote an essay titled "Fart Proudly."
Franklin sent the essay to one of the foremost scientific institutions in Europe at the time, imploring them to find ways to make his farts smell better.Wikimedia Commons
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He created the first political cartoon published in the colonies.
The world-renowned "Join, or Die" illustration arguably marks the genesis of American political cartoons. Published in the Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754, it's also the earliest pictorial representation of a colonial union created by an American colonist before the country's unification.
The snake, separated into pieces, symbolized the American colonies. The warning "or die" was directed at British loyalists.Wikimedia Commons
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He was a womanizer.
He not only made advances towards his friend's mistress as a teenager, but also fathered an illegitimate child in his 20s.
Franklin wrote in his autobiography that "the hard-to-be-governed passion of my youth had hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way."
Even as an older man in his 50s, he spent little time with his wife in Philadelphia — and instead gallivanted around London and Paris to satisfy his urges.Library of Congress
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He invented the odometer.
Tasked by the British government with improving the colonies' postal system, Franklin worked tirelessly to streamline mail delivery — and invented the first odometer. He measured the distances between postal stations with a geared device fitted to the back wheel of his carriage.
The machine clicked ahead by one mile with every 400 revolutions of the wheel, which allowed Franklin to accurately measure the early colonial roads — and thus thoroughly improve postal routes.Smithsonian National Postal Museum
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He suggested something similar to Daylight Savings Time.
While Benjamin Franklin did not invent what is now known as Daylight Savings Time, he did propose a pretty similar change in sleep schedules. He was also the first person to have such an idea in recorded history.
It was 1784, and 78-year-old Franklin was serving as an ambassador to France when he was rudely awakened by the summer sun at 6 a.m. He opted to pen a satirical essay that suggested Parisians save money through "the economy of using sunshine instead of candles" if only they seasonally changed the time.
Since time wasn't standardized back then, his idea had no way of being implemented. Years later, in the early 1900s, William Willett of England led the first campaign to do what Franklin previously suggested.Library of Congress
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Franklin was the 15th child of 17.
Franklin's father, Josiah Franklin, fathered 17 children in total and was married twice. Franklin's mother was a woman named Abiah Folger, with whom Josiah Franklin had 10 offspring — Benjamin Franklin being the eighth.Flickr
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He was an early proponent of inoculation.
Franklin was one of the early supporters of vaccination, and specifically for smallpox. The outbreaks in Boston in 1721 and 1730 left an impression on him and he preached to everyone including his wife that the preventative method made scientific sense.
But Franklin's wife didn't believe that injecting fluid from the vesicles of an infected person into a healthy person would create immunity and so chose not to inoculate their son, Francis. Unfortunately, Francis died as a child in 1736.Wikimedia Commons
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He invented the flexible urinary catheter.
When Benjamin Franklin's brother John experienced painful bladder stones, the resourceful inventor set to work on finding a solution.
Franklin designed this flexible catheter in 1752 which was the earliest of its kind. It was made of metal parts and hinged together with a wire. The wire was thoroughly enclosed to make sure that there was enough rigidity during its insertion.Library of Congress
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He only had two years of formal education.
Franklin dropped out of middle school when he was 12 to work in the family soap business.
He spent whatever money he earned on books and would hone his memory skills by reading essays and then rewriting them without looking.
Despite his lack of hours in the classroom, he earned honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, and several other top institutions.Wikimedia Commons
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He "retired" at the age of 42.
After the success of "Poor Richard's Almanack," Franklin had enough cash to call it quits on the printing business. He became a "gentleman of leisure" and focused on his studies and inventions. Wikimedia Commons
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His secret identity was a woman named Silence Dogood.
When Franklin's brother refused to publish his letters in his newspaper, the scorned sibling began writing and submitting work under the name "Silence Dogood."
Dogood became wildly popular and Franklin only revealed her true identity after she received several marriage proposals. Wikimedia Commons
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He wasn't into the whole "revolution" idea at first.
Franklin was the last founding father to get on board with the revolution.
"Every encroachment on rights is not worth a rebellion," he once said.Getty Images
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His son was a British loyalist.
Franklin fathered an illegitimate son named William in 1730. The two were close for a while, but had a big falling out over the revolution.
William (pictured) remained a loyal Tory and refused to resign from his position as royal governor of New Jersey. For that, he'd spend two years in colonial prison and be cut out of his dad's will. Wikimedia Commons
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He started the first volunteer fire department in America.
In a series of articles published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Franklin expressed the need for better fire prevention methods. This led to the formation of the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia in December 1736. Unofficially, the department became better known as Benjamin Franklin’s Bucket Brigade.Wikimedia Commons
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He was a fugitive.
In 1723, Benjamin Franklin officially became a fugitive. At the time, he was apprenticed at his brother's shop and fled to Philadelphia instead. This was wholly illegal since he was contractually obliged to be his brother's apprentice.
He sailed from Boston to New York and walked to New Jersey, where he boarded another ship to reach Philadelphia. It was here that his future wife, Deborah Read, spotted him on the street — blissfully unaware this stranger would become her husband seven years later.
Franklin found a job as a printer's apprentice in Philadelphia shortly after arriving and had no serious trouble with the law.Wikimedia Commons
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He was a champion chess player.
Franklin wasn't only a prolific chess player (inducted into the chess hall of fame in 1999), he was also a classy one.
He brought the sport to America and wrote "The Morals of Chess."Wikimedia Commons
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He was never president.
Franklin is sometimes referred to as the "only U.S. President to have never been U.S. President."
He was, however, the governor of Pennsylvania as well as the ambassador to France and Sweden.Wikimedia Commons
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Was the first Postmaster General of the United States.
Franklin was appointed postmaster of Philadelphia by the British Crown Post in 1737. Back then, newspaper printers often served as postmasters themselves and could decide the price on the papers they posted — if they chose to deliver them by mail at all.
During his tenure as postmaster general, Franklin surveyed the roads and ordered papers to print the names of people who had mail waiting for them at the Post Office.
It was under Franklin that the British Crown Post registered its first profits in North America in 1760.Wikimedia Commons
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He was a great swimmer.
Franklin loved the water and earned a spot in the International Swimming Hall of Fame for his strokes.
He even invented hand flippers to go faster. Wikimedia Commons
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Franklin was a fashion icon in Paris.
When Franklin arrived as a delegate in France, he played up the rustic American look with a fur hat and plain clothes.
The Parisians loved it and women across the country could soon be seen in fur caps and big wigs in a style dubbed "coiffure a la Franklin."Getty Images
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He perfected the glass harmonica.
Although sometimes it is claimed that Franklin was actually the inventor of this musical instrument, others had previously designed objects that were similar in function and purpose. Even so, Franklin’s glass harmonica was quite revolutionary and unique in its design, which is why the real inventor is still a bone of contention.
Either way, it was Franklin’s creation that became popular and remained the blueprint for all future glass harmonica designs. Some of the biggest composers of all time—like Beethoven, Strauss and Mozart—composed pieces for this instrument.Wikimedia Commons
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He spent his later years as a devoted abolitionist.
Franklin owned two slaves in his life, but later realized the gross inhumanity of the practice.
He presented an abolitionist petition to Congress in 1790 and included a provision in his will that his daughter (pictured) had to free her slave to get her inheritance. Wikimedia Commons
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He shrewdly left huge sums of his money to his home cities.
He also left 2,000 pounds of sterling to his birthplace (Boston) and his hometown (Philadelphia).
He stipulated that the money had to be placed in a trust for 200 years. So by the time the cities gained access to it, it was worth a total of $6.5 million. Getty Images
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He lived his life according to 13 rules.
Named "the 13 virtues," he wrote them when he was 20 years old and stuck to them. Some of these virtues include frugality, sincerity, silence, and order.Getty Images
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He wanted to change the alphabet.
In his version, there was no C, J, Q, W, X or Y. It didn't catch on. Wikimedia Commons
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He liked to take air baths.
Every morning, Franklin would sit at his open first-floor window “without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season.”
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He liked to get philosophical over drinks.
Franklin founded a group known as the Junto. Initially consisting of 12 members with different backgrounds, the group would meet in taverns, have a drink, and discuss philosophical matters. Eventually, they would also start to discuss social issues.
The Junto is where Franklin would come up with some of his best civic ideas like founding a public hospital, a lending library, the first American volunteer fire department, and even the University of Pennsylvania.Getty Images
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He stored the remains of 10 people in his basement.
From 1757 to 1775, Franklin lived in a four-story home on 36 Craven Street in London. During renovations to turn it into a museum in 1998, construction workers made a disturbing discovery — human remains.
At first, it seemed as though there was only a thigh bone sticking out of the dirt floor. After authorities were called, officials found a whopping 1,200 pieces of bone belonging to 10 people — six of them being children. The remains were all over 200 years old.
Fortunately, the reason these skeletons were stashed in Franklin's house wasn't as grisly as it may seem. Franklin had allowed William Hewson, a former anatomy student, to use his basement for practice. It's unclear whether Franklin knew the young man was working on cadavers down there, however. Wikimedia Commons
33 Facts That Capture The Strange And Salacious Life Of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, the bespectacled inventor remembered for his contributions to early America, is a crucial figure in the history of the nation's founding. His exploits and accomplishments are so well known that he's often jokingly referred to as the "only U.S. President to have never been U.S. President."
Outside of politics, Franklin invented a slew of devices still used today and heroically refused to patent them so that they could freely benefit the people. From devising his own odometer in order to improve early American postal routes to mastering five languages in order to refine the alphabet, his pioneering work remains staggering to this day.
Whether it's his political triumphs, scientific breakthroughs, or his colorful personal life, these are some of the most surprising facts about Benjamin Franklin, America's favorite renaissance man.
Listen above to the History Uncovered podcast, episode 5: The Founding Fathers, also available on iTunes and Spotify.
Lesser-Known Facts About Benjamin Franklin's Early Years
Wikimedia CommonsBenjamin Franklin, head of the American Post Office Richard Bache, his wife Sarah, Franklin's daughter, and her son Benjamin Franklin Bache are greeted by Judge Thomas McKean at the Philadelphia harbor.
Benjamin Franklin was born on Jan. 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts, when what would become the New England state was still known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Franklin's father, Josiah Franklin, was married twice. He had seven children with his first wife and 10 more with his second. Franklin was the 15th of 17 and the youngest son.
Though he learned to read quite young and was a promising student at the Boston Latin School, Franklin's father had a failing candle and soap shop that needed all the help it could get, so Franklin dropped out of school at age 10 to work full-time. It quickly became clear that dipping wax did not intellectually stimulate him enough.
Franklin's father subsequently apprenticed the 12-year-old at the print shop of his older brother James. Though he learned a lot about newspaper publishing, Franklin was routinely beaten by his brother, who also refused to publish any of his writing.
Library of CongressFranklin printed his early works under a female pseudonym because his brother refused to accept his work.
When he was 16, Franklin resourcefully published his own work by submitting stories under the pseudonym Mrs. Silence Dogood to his brother's paper, The New-England Courant. Readers loved it. Franklin eventually grew too tired of his brother's "harsh and tyrannical" behavior and fled Boston in 1723, breaking his contractual obligation to his brother as his apprentice.
After visiting New York and New Jersey, Franklin settled in Philadelphia where he worked for another publisher — before making his mark on the world of politics.
How Franklin Struck It Rich In The Publishing World
Shortly after moving to Philadelphia, Franklin began courting his landlord's daughter, Deborah Read. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Governor William Keith encouraged Franklin to set up his own print shop, so the young inventor traveled to London for supplies.
But when Franklin arrived, Keith pulled out his funding, leaving Franklin stranded in London. When he finally returned to Philadelphia in 1726, he found that Read had gotten married.
But the pair nevertheless rekindled their romance. Read refused to recognize her lawful husband as her spouse and took Franklin as her common-law husband, instead. Together they had a son who tragically died from smallpox at age four.
Library of CongressBenjamin Franklin's old print shop.
Meanwhile, Franklin and a friend opened their own print shop in 1728. They published books and government pamphlets, and Franklin was named the official printer of Pennsylvania in 1730. He formed the "Junto," a self-improvement group that met weekly to discuss philosophy and politics.
He also purchased The Pennsylvania Gazette from his former boss and transformed it into the most popular newspaper in the colonies. He launched his wildly popular Poor Richard's Almanack in 1732 which set him on the path to immeasurable riches.
Franklin's Biggest Inventions And Political Triumphs
In the 1740s, after finding success in publishing, Franklin largely pivoted to science and entrepreneurship.
His first invention was the Franklin stove, which was designed to require less fuel while providing more heat. He invented bifocals, a glass harmonica, and a flexible urinary catheter.
By 1748, the 42-year-old became one of the wealthiest men in Pennsylvania. That same year, he purchased the first of many slaves to help him at his print shop. Later in life, he would become an abolitionist and free his slaves.
In 1754, Franklin published what is largely considered to be the first printed political cartoon in the United States. He published the famous "Join or Die" illustration in his own paper with the aim of unifying the colonies during the French and Indian War.
Public DomainOne of Franklin's many political cartoons that depicts the dismemberment of the colonies.
At the same time, Franklin became an experienced politician in Philadelphia's city council, a justice of the peace, and represented the state at the Albany Congress. He used his political intellect and publishing power to help shape the trajectory of the fledgling nation.
In 1775, he reached the heights of political power when he was elected to the Second Continental Congress. There, he helped speerhead the revolution, signed the Declaration of Independence, and co-authored the U.S. Constitution in 1787.
He was the oldest delegate to do so — at 81 years old — three years before he died of gout at the Philadelphia home of his daughter.