You may know Benjamin Franklin as the face on the one-hundred-dollar bill, or perhaps as one of our Founding Fathers. Or maybe you recognize his name because of his kite experiment, which proved we can get electricity from lightning. But are you aware of Franklin’s many other inventions that have helped improve our lives today?
In 1746, Benjamin accidentally shocked himself. This gave him the motivation to find a way to help protect buildings – or, more specifically, the people inside buildings – from lightning strikes. He knew that a sharp iron needle could conduct electricity away from a charged metal sphere and decided to create something on a much larger scale.
It’s hard to invent things when you can’t see, so as Franklin’s eyesight started to diminish, he began looking at ways to help him see. He was tired of switching between two sets of eyeglasses – one to see up close and one to see things far away. Using the two sets, Benjamin split the lenses in half and then spliced them together into one lens. Now, the lens at the top allowed him to see things in the distance while the bottom one allowed him to read.
English musicians would sometimes use glasses filled with water to make harmonic sounds. They would wet their fingers and run them along the rims, filling the vessels with different levels of water to make different notes. Franklin was inspired by this and in 1761, designed the armonica by using a glassblower to re-create the music. “Of all my inventions, the glass armonica has given me the greatest personal satisfaction,” he said.
Pennsylvania can have very cold winters, and in 1742, Benjamin decided to find a better way to heat the home. The Franklin stove generated much more heat than the traditional fireplace. It was a metal-lined fireplace that stood a few inches away from the chimney. The heat from the fire was released in the back and then mixed with the air more quickly while a siphon helped to pull even more heat into the room. Another bonus was that it produced less smoke than a regular fireplace.
Although Benjamin Franklin created a lot of successful inventions, he never patented any of them. He believed the ideas should be shared freely, saying: “That as we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”