Benjamin Franklin Inventions –
A history of innovation out of necessity

The diversity of Benjamin Franklin inventions is rivaled only by his achievements and undertaking in life—an author, a politician, a scientist, a postmaster, a musician, an inventor, an activist and many more.

One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin is the quintessential polymath: a a true expert in a significant number of different subject areas.

Benjamin Franklin grew up developing a unique curiousity about the things happening around him. He developed an interest in how things worked and a keen thinking on how he can find ways to make things work better. Here are a few inventions spawned by a curious mind, a love for knowledge and a true will to help humanity.

Benjamin Franklin Inventions #1 - Bifocals

Bifocals are eyeglasses with two kinds of lenses in one frame. The upper lens is used to aid viewing at a distance while the lower one is meant for reading. It is being prescribed to this day to people suffering from presbyopia, a condition Benjamin Franklin suffered from, where by with age, one losses the ability to focus on near objects.

Benjamin Franklin used to have two glasses—one used for far vision and another one for reading. He got tired of having to take off one pair of glasses to put another one on, and so thought of a way to solve his vision problems using one pair of glasses that will provide a solution. His solution? He cut off the lenses of his glasses in half and put both halves together in a single frame, thus, the bifocals for near and far vision where born.

The bifocals are a great example on how by combining two existing inventions you can come up with a new better one, which is new and of value.

Benjamin Franklin Inventions #2- Flexible urinary catheter

Benjamin Franklin was not really known as someone who studied anatomy and biology. He only became interested in the human body because his brother John suffered from kidney stone made worse by having to use catheter tubes to drain urine directly from the bladder.

The catheter of Benjamin Franklin’s time was not the same one used today. During that time, the catheter was a tube inserted through the urethra, quite a painful and discomforting experience to patients. This has prompted Franklin’s invention of a flexible urinary catheter.

It is considered among the most important Benjamin Franklin inventions and has been used extensively all over the world.

Benjamin Franklin Inventions #3 -Lightning rod

Of all of Benjamin Franklin inventions, probably the most famous would be his invention of the lightning rod. Franklin was so fond of how electricity works that he used to mount his horse in the middle of a storm chasing lightning. As he developed an increased understanding of how lightning strikes and emits electricity, he started looking for a way to control the devastation that lighting damage has been causing most American communities back then.

Using a rod that was to be attached to the top of buildings and houses, and connected to the ground using thin wires, he constructed the first lighting rod. When the electricity emitted by lightning hit the rod on the roof, the charge was conducted towards the ground, preventing it from reaching buildings and burning down houses or electrocuting people.

Benjamin Franklin Inventions #4 -Iron furnace stove

In Benjamin Franklin’s time, Americans used to warm their homes using an open fireplace. Benjamin Franklin found this dangerous and also quite wasteful as it consumed a lot of wood. To solve the issue, he has managed to invent a metal-lined fireplace which stands in the middle of a room instead of near the wall.

The iron furnace stove, also known as the Franklin stove, was invented in 1742. This invention provided more heat and used up less firewood, thus, also creating less smoke – a complete improvements to the existing solutions of the period. The idea of using iron was especially inventive, as metal can radiate more heat in all directions and because it conducts heat, the stove can provide warmth even after the fire has already burned out.

The invention was deemed so useful that Benjamin Franklin was offered a patent for it, thus, giving him the sole right to mass produce and sell the invention, making a decent profit. Franklin however, chose to decline the patent as a matter of principle, stating, “as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by an invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.”

Benjamin Franklin Inventions #5 -Odometer

Benjamin Franklin’s curiosity has led him to the invention of his own version of an odometer – a machine used to measure distances traveled by a vehicle. He used to work as a postmaster delivering mail between Philadelphia and Boston.

Riding in his carriage, he found the need to keep track of the distance he traveled, but had nothing available at the time. He attached a device to the wheels of carriage, to measure the number of its revolutions. He then multiplied those by the wheel’s circumference, giving out an accurate measurement of the distance he traveled in miles.

Benjamin Franklin Inventions #6 -Long arm

In his retirement age, Benjamin Franklin spent most of his time reading and studying. One of his major problems back then was reaching books placed on high shelves. He did have grandchildren to help him out but still, when a problem strikes, the inventor in him just had to find a way to solve it.

And solve it he did by inventing the long arm out of a long wooden pole with a claw at the end—a very simple solution, but a clever one nonetheless. Similar ideas were used later on to fashion prostates for amputees.

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