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One of Benjamin Franklin's most famous inventions is the lightning rod, which he developed around 1752. Then, having established the relationship between lightning and electricity, Franklin hypothesized that an iron rod could protect buildings during lightning storms. Franklin Institute
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Both nearsighted and farsighted, Benjamin Franklin grew frustrated with constantly needing to swap his spectacles. Thus, he came up with the bifocals in order to satisfy his desire to "see distinctly far or near."Library of Congress
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At the young age of 11, Benjamin Franklin came up with one of his first inventions: swim fins. His fins attached to a swimmer's hands — not feet, like modern-day ones — and Franklin observed that they helped him swim faster. However, they also made his wrists ache. Benjamin Franklin Museum
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In 1742, Benjamin Franklin came up with a stove that could heat homes more efficiently while producing less smoke. The so-called Franklin Stove helped pave the way for modern heating systems. Public Domain
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Flexible Urinary Catheter
Benjamin Franklin came up with many of his inventions as a means to solve his problems. But in 1752, he came up with something meant to solve his brother John's problem: the flexible urinary catheter.
John suffered from kidney stones, and had to use a painful, rigid metal tube in order to urinate. To alleviate some of this pain, Franklin invented a version with a flexible tube. "It is as flexible as would be expected in a thing of the kind, and I imagine will readily comply with the turns of the passage," he told his brother.The Franklin Institute
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Many of Benjamin Franklin's inventions had an important function. But one simply made beautiful music: the glass armonica.
Franklin had observed European musicians making music by running their fingers along the edges of water-filled glasses, and decided to simplify the process by creating a single instrument that could make the same music.
"Of all my inventions," he later noted, "the glass armonica has given me the greatest personal satisfaction."Library of Congress
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Benjamin Franklin arguably didn't invent the odometer — its use has been recorded even in ancient times — but he did refine it and put it to remarkable use as Postmaster General of the United States between 1775 and 1776.
Then, Franklin had the idea to measure distances by placing his device near the wheel of his carriage. After every 400 rotations, it recorded one mile. This helped him see how far his mail had traveled, and gave him a good idea of what colonial roads looked like.Benjamin Franklin Museum/National Museum of American History
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Benjamin Franklin was fascinated by the idea of electricity, and many of his experiments and inventions aimed at better understanding how it worked. His electrostatic machine produced static electricity and helped inform his hypotheses about his lightning rod. Adam Cooperstein/Wikimedia Commons
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In 1786, Benjamin Franklin invented something he called "Long Arm." Simply put, it was a wooden pole with a grasping claw that helped him reach things on high shelves.
"Old men find it inconvenient to mount a ladder or steps for that purpose, their heads being sometimes subject to giddinesses, and their activity, with the steadiness of their joints being abated by age; be-sides the trouble of removing the steps every time a book is wanted from a different part of their library," Franklin explained. "For a remedy, I have lately made the following simple machine, which I call the Long Arm."Public Domain
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"Unspillable" Soup Bowl
Apparently tired of having his soup spill during his many Atlantic voyages, Benjamin Franklin came up with a bowl that could stay steady during an ocean squall.
He came up with the idea for “soup dishes in divisions, like a set of small bowls united together... when the ship should make a sudden heel, the soup would not in a body flow over one side, but would be retained in the separate divisions."Twitter
From Bifocals To Swim Fins, Discover 10 Of The Most Astonishing Benjamin Franklin Inventions
Benjamin Franklin was many things. He was a statesman, a newspaper publisher, and one of the architects of the American Revolution. But at his core, Franklin was an inventor. His remarkable mind never seemed to stop, as these 10 Benjamin Franklin inventions more than prove.
Born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts, Franklin put his keen mind to use at a young age. Though he had to drop out of school at age 10 to help his father's failing candle and soap shop, he used any free time he had to devour books. And at the age of 11, Franklin came up with one of his first inventions: wooden swim fins in order to swim faster.
Unlike today's swim fins, which swimmers attach to their feet, the 11-year-old Franklin attached his swim fins to his hands.
Library of CongressBenjamin Franklin as a young man, when he worked as a printer.
"I made two oval [palettes] each about 10 inches long and six broad, with a hole for the thumb in order to retain it fast in the palm of my hand," Franklin later wrote in his essay, On The Art Of Swimming. "They much resembled a painter's [palettes]. 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 [palettes], but they fatigued my wrists."
As he grew older, Benjamin Franklin's proclivity for inventions increased. A man of many talents — and many pastimes — Franklin invented a soup bowl that could not spill, a musical instrument called the glass armonica, a reaching device to snag books on high shelves, and even bifocal glasses.
A voracious reader suffering from both nearsightedness and farsightedness, Franklin grew tired of having to constantly switch his spectacles. So, he invented what he called "double spectacles." As the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History writes, Franklin cut the lenses of two pairs of spectacles and placed "half of each kind associated in the same Circle."
The Franklin InstituteBenjamin Franklin's invention of bifocals was — like many of his inventions — a solution to one of his own problems.
"Eyes up or down, as I want to see distinctly far or near," Franklin noted. In a letter to his friend George Whatley, Franklin happily reported that his "double spectacles" made his eyes as "useful to me as ever they were."
But perhaps the most famous Benjamin Franklin invention is the lightning rod, which he dreamed up around 1752.
Then, lightning was a grave danger to towns across the world. Churches were especially at risk, as they were often the highest building around. It just so happened that Franklin was fascinated by lightning.
Philadelphia Museum of ArtBenjamin Franklin famously used a key to prove that lightning was electrical.
In 1752, Benjamin Franklin had determined that lightning was electrical with his famous kite experiment. Then, he attached a metal key to a kite and observed the electrical charge that came down from the stormy sky. Of course, he didn't invent electricity, but Franklin did make a crucial observation about lightning.
And with this knowledge in hand, Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod. He hypothesized that placing an iron rod on buildings could protect them from destructive lightning strikes during storms.
"May not the knowledge of this power of points be of use to mankind, in preserving houses, churches, ships, etc., from the stroke of lightning, by directing us to fix, on the highest parts of those edifices, upright rods of iron made sharp as a needle," he mused, according to the Franklin Institute.
"Would not these pointed rods probably draw the electrical fire silently out of a cloud before it came nigh enough to strike, and thereby secure us from that most sudden and terrible mischief!"
After he installed a lightning rod on his own house in Philadelphia, others quickly followed on both sides of the Atlantic. According to the Constitution Center, even King George III had a lightning rod installed.
During his life, Franklin wore many hats. But nothing quite demonstrates the depth of his mind as Benjamin Franklin's inventions.
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.