Benjamin Franklin’s Best Inventions and Innovations

In his era, Benjamin Franklin encompassed the innovation prowess of Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Mark Zuckerberg, and Henry Ford combined. Let’s delve into his enduring contributions and creations as we commemorate his birthday on January 17.

Similar to the aforementioned individuals, Franklin either devised his own practical contraptions or ingeniously enhanced existing inventions.

His renown as a scientist, inventor, author, and statesman transcended borders, with the French viewing Franklin as a true Renaissance man. The British, on the other hand, branded him a treacherous dissenter after he endorsed a revolution against the monarchy, leading to a bounty on his head. Amidst his robust public service, Franklin’s impactful yet unassuming role surfaced during the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Beyond doubt, Franklin cultivated his own media realm. He donned various hats – postmaster, politician, firefighter, musician, and skilled swimmer, to name a few.

Let’s now explore Franklin’s foremost innovations, most of which continue to find applications within the United States.

Innovation: The Franklin stove (1742). In the Colonial era, fireplaces proved inefficient and smoky. Franklin’s iron-clad stove introduced a superior alternative, emitting more heat with significantly less smoke and wood consumption. Franklin chose not to patent his invention, driven by his belief in its communal benefit.

Innovation: The lightning rod (circa 1753). Leveraging his comprehension of electricity, Franklin devised an economical solution to safeguard homes from fire. The rod diverted lightning’s charge into the ground, shielding buildings. Its popularity surged, with even King George III installing one at his palace. Over time, the lightning rod underwent enhancements, including those by Nikola Tesla.

Innovation or innovation: Bifocals (exact date uncertain). Historically, Franklin was accredited with inventing bifocals in his later years, addressing dual vision issues. Recent debates have surfaced about whether Franklin pioneered bifocals or merely popularized an existing technology. An analysis by the College of Optometrists suggests bifocals existed in England during the 1760s, a period when Franklin resided there. Regardless, he gained prominence as a prominent user of bifocals.

Innovation or innovation: The flexible catheter (1752). When Franklin’s brother faced urinary complications due to kidney stones, Franklin engineered a practical, less distressing alternative to the rigid tubes used by doctors. This flexible catheter remains in use today, although similar devices were known in Europe, Franklin’s iteration found favor in America.

Innovation: Pioneering electrical terminology. Franklin’s renowned experiments with electricity earned him recognition within the scientific realm, fostering his diplomatic career, especially in France. Professor Leo LeMay from the University of Delaware, a distinguished Franklin scholar, attributed to him the adoption of four fundamental terms in electricity: battery, positive, negative, and charge. These words existed earlier but held distinct meanings.

Bonus insights: Unattributed inventions by Franklin. In 1997, Professor LeMay curated a list of creations not attributed to Franklin, which includes the first street light, the odometer, daylight savings time, the inaugural volunteer fire company, and the maiden fire insurance company, all of which emerged independently from his endeavors.

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