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Benjamin Franklin, who was also known under his nickname Ben Franklin, and a pseudonym Richard Saunders, was an American printer and publisher, inventor, scientist, author, and diplomat.
Benjamin Franklin is best known as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. This was a group of American leaders who united the Thirteen Colonies, led the war for independence from Great Britain, and built a frame of government for the United States of America upon republican principles during the second half of the 18th century.
Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts, and he died in 1790 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the age of 84. Besides being politically involved, Benjamin Franklin made significant contributions to science, especially in his understanding of electricity. Many years after his time, he’s still known for his wit, wisdom, and elegant writing. (1)
Benjamin Franklin was considered to be a renaissance man who was well ahead of his time with many ideas. However, there are still many interesting facts about Benjamin Franklin you probably haven’t heard about. Without any further ado, let’s find out more about them!
One of the most surprising facts about Benjamin Franklin is that he only had two years of formal education. Today, he’s considered to be one of the most brilliant Americans of his age. However, he didn’t learn by studying, but rather by doing.
He spent two years taking classes in Boston Latin School, and a private academy. Following that, he joined the family business, which was a candle and soap making shop, before he was 11 years old.
Franklin wasted no time, and before he turned 12 years old, he started serving as a printing shop apprentice, which was held by his brother, James. What Benjamin lacked in education, he made up with books. He would spend all of his money on buying new ones, sometimes even going without food so that he could afford new pieces. One of his hobbies was reading essays and articles, and rewriting them from memory.
While Franklin was self-taught, he was later involved in the founding of the school that became the University of Pennsylvania. Later in his life, he received several honorary degrees from Yale, Harvard, Oxford, the College of William and Mary, and the University of St. Andrews. Even though Franklin had no formal education, he knew how important it is to educate future generations. Because of that, he invested a lot of his money and knowledge into schools and institutes. (2)
During his early life, Franklin was involved in several entrepreneurial ventures. As a print shop owner, a land speculator, and the publisher of the popular “Poor Richard’s Almanack”, he became very wealthy. By the age of 42, he became rich enough to be able to comfortably retire.
While he didn’t officially retire, he did have a lot of free time to spare. He spent the rest of his life studying science and making inventions, such as bifocal glasses, a lightning rod, and a more efficient heating stove. Because of his early retirement, he had the freedom and knowledge to devote himself to public service and bigger ideas. (3)
When Benjamin was a child, he would often go swimming in his coastal hometown, Boston. Over time, he developed a love for swimming that stayed with him for his entire life. When he was staying in England in the 1760s, he displayed an impressive array of different swimming strokes during a dip in Themes. His friend, who was swimming with him that day, offered him to help open Franklin’s own swimming school in London.
Benjamin declined his friend’s offer, but he continued to regularly swim for the rest of his life. He once wrote: “Every parent would be glad to have their children skilled in swimming.” Swimming props were also often the subject of his inventions. He created a pair of wooden hand paddles, which he used to help him swim through the Charles River.
His aquatic skills didn’t go unnoticed and posthumously earned him an honorary induction at the International Swimming Hall of Fame. (4)
When Benjamin was 16 years old, his brother James founded a weekly newspaper, named the New England Courant. Franklin saw this as a unique opportunity to publish some of his writings. He secretly submitted essays and commentary, under a fictitious character “Silence Dogood”. Mrs. Dogood was a fictitious widow who offered homespun commentary and ideas about everything from fashion and marriage to religion and women’s rights.
His letters were very popular, and Mrs. Dogood had a large following. Soon enough, (s)he received a couple of marriage proposals from eligible bachelors in Boston. Benjamin wrote 14 letters in total before he unmasked himself.
When Franklin unveiled that he was the author of the essays, this made his brother very jealous. That was the turning point in their relationship. Benjamin endured several years of beatings and toil while working for James, and at that point, he decided he had enough. He fled Boston the next year and decided to continue living in Philadelphia, which would remain his hometown for the rest of his life. (5)
The fact that Benjamin Franklin was a President of the United States is a common misconception. Having in mind his political involvements, it’s no surprise that some might think he was. Even though his contemporaries Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and George Washington held the office of the presidency, Franklin never did.
On the other hand, he was the governor of Pennsylvania, the first US ambassador to France and Sweden, and the first-ever United States Postmaster General. (6)
When he was living in London, during the 1760s, he embarked on a project with the purpose to give the alphabet a more natural order. He was annoyed by numerous inconsistencies in the spelling of the English language. Franklin decided to devise his own phonetic system and ditched the redundant letters C, J, Q, W, X, and Y, and added six completely new letters. The purpose of the new letters was to represent their own specific vocal sound.
In an essay published in 1779, Franklin revealed his “Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling.” When the project failed to induce enough public interest, Benjamin wrote the project off. (7)
After Franklin’s death in 1790, his will revealed that he left 2,000 pounds to Boston and Philadelphia each. However, this money couldn’t be used right away. For the first 100 years, the money had to be placed in a trust which could only be used to provide loans to local tradesman. After the first 100 years, a portion was left to be spent, but most of the money was off-limits for another 100 years. When the 200 years would pass, both cities were free to spend the money as they saw fit.
Philadelphia and Boston followed Benjamin’s will, and when the 200 years passed in 1990, the trusts were worth $2 million and $4.5 million. Philadelphia used its funds to finance the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and allocated some of the funds towards scholarships for students of trade schools. Boston decided to finance the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology from their portion of the money. (8)
One of the surprising facts about Benjamin Franklin is that he came up with the idea of Daylight Saving Time long before it was campaigned for. Almost 120 years after Franklin created a remarkably similar argument for introducing something that we today call the Daylight Saving Time.
When Franklin was 78 years old and serving as an ambassador to France, he didn’t like being woken up by the summer sun at 6 am. Because of that, he wrote an essay in his recognizable, satirical style, suggesting that Parisians could save money through “the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.”
However, during Franklin’s life, the time wasn’t standardized, and because of that, there was no way of implementing his idea. Almost 12 years later, in the early 1900s, Englishman William Willett led the first campaign for Daylight Saving Time. Franklin was never credited for this idea. Having in mind that he didn’t patent his inventions, it’s probably likely that he wouldn’t mind, as long as he contributed something good to humanity. (9)
In this article, we covered some of the most interesting facts about Benjamin Franklin, but there’s always more to learn about this intriguing figure.
You should also check 40 Brilliant Benjamin Franklin Quotes.
Now, we give the mic back to you. Which one of these Benjamin Franklin facts is your favorite one? Have we failed to mention some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!