Benjamin Franklin is one of the key figureheads of American history. A brilliant inventor, publisher, politician, and ambassador, the founding father wore many different hats in his lifetime.
But did you know he was the first to suggest an idea similar to Daylight Saving Time? And that he invented a musical instrument that Beethoven and Mozart loved so much they wrote music for it?
Keep scrolling to learn more facts about American history’s “Renaissance man.”
Franklin’s Daylight Saving Time-esque idea originated as a humorous suggestion to the French.
Benjamin Franklin is not credited with inventing what we now know as Daylight Saving Time, but he did structure a remarkably similar argument for re-arranging sleep schedules – and was the first person to ever have such an idea.
In 1784, when Franklin was 78 years old and serving as an ambassador to France, he was unpleasantly awoken from the summer sun at 6 a.m. As a result, Franklin penned one of his famous satirical essays, suggesting that Parisians, if they woke up at dawn, could save money through “the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.”
Unfortunately, Franklin lived at time when time was not standardised, so there was no way of implementing his plan. After Europe was standardised, in the early 1900s, Englishman William Willett led the first campaign for what we know know as Daylight Saving Time.
Benjamin Franklin only had two years of formal education.
In this day and age, it’s hard to believe that a world-renowned thinker like Franklin hardly set foot in a classroom.
Franklin was 8 years old when he attended the South Grammar School (Boston Latin) in Boston, Massachusetts. The following year he switched to George Brownell’s English School, which specialised in writing and arithmetic.
At age 10, Franklin started an apprenticeship in his father’s soap- and candle-making shop, which marked the end of his formal education. Nevertheless, he remained a prolific reader and writer, borrowing books from friends, and, eventually, apprenticing at his brother’s printing shop.
Franklin designed the “glass armonica,” a musical instrument that was beloved by Mozart and Beethoven.
During his time as a delegate to London and France, Franklin noticed that many performers used sets of drinking glasses to create sound. He was intrigued, and got to work on a musical instrument that could mimic the sound of wet fingers on glass.
Completed in 1761, Franklin’s glass armonica (“armonica” comes from the Italian word “armonia,” which means “harmony”) uses glass cups of varying sizes and density to create different notes. His invention went on to become one of the most popular instruments of the 18th century, and composers like Beethoven and Mozart even wrote music for it.
Franklin said about his creation, “Of all my inventions, the glass armonica has given me the greatest personal satisfaction.”
He created his own phonetic alphabet in 1768.
Franklin’s alphabet was designed to “have a more natural order” than the traditional English alphabet, with an emphasis on spelling according to sound and vocal effort. If Franklin’s alphabet was implemented – which it wasn’t – we probably wouldn’t have the letters C, J, Q, W, X, and Y, which Franklin found confusing and redundant.
He was posthumously inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
Franklin was a lifelong swimmer – he actually invented his own pair of flippers when he was a young boy.
According to the International Swimming Hall of Fame,Franklin swam a Thames River excursion in 1726, which stretched a whopping 3.5 miles from Chelsea to Blackfriars. He was a lifelong swim teacher and advocate, and often proposed that schools should implement swimming programs.
For that reason, Franklin was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1968.
He was the only founding father who signed all four documents the US used to gain independence.
It’s no secret that Benjamin Franklin is one of the country’s founding fathers, but he was the onlyone to sign all four documents used to gain independence from Britain: the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Treaty of Alliance with France in 1778, the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and the US Constitution in 1787.
To top that off, Franklin was also the oldest signer of the Declaration of Independence, which he gave his “John Hancock” to at age 70.
Despite being a prolific inventor, he never patented an invention.
Franklin could have received monetary (and legal) credit for all of the remarkable ideas of his lifetime, and yet he never sought a patent for any of his inventions.
According to PBS, it was against his belief system. Franklin quipped, “As we benefit from the inventions of others, we should be glad to share our own… freely and gladly.”
A few of his amazing inventions include street lighting, swim fins, bifocal glasses (which he can be seen wearing in almost every portrait), and a stove.
His pseudonym was “Mrs. Silence Dogood.”
In order to submit to the rebellious newspaper the New England Courant, Franklin used a fake name: Mrs. Silence Dogood.
Franklin was just 16 when he began writing as Dogood, and that’s when he submitted his first entry to the Courant – a newspaper ran by his older brother, James Franklin. The witty and intelligent essays were about things like “the pride of apparel” and “religious hypocrisy,” and they were a raging success in Boston at the time.
Though James knew “Mrs. Silence Dogood” was a pseudonym, he had no idea his little brother was penning the entries. He was reportedly upset after finding out, causing a rift between the brothers.
He’s the name behind the Franklin Gothic font, which is widely used today.
The Franklin Gothic font is ubiquitous: it’s used on billboards, in headlines, on album covers, and in board games.
The font was invented by the head of typeface development for the American Type Founders, Morris Fuller Benton, in the early 1900s. Though he was influenced by the German Akzidenz Grotesk typeface designs, Fuller Benton decided to name his new font to honour Franklin, who was an influential typesetter and publisher of his time.
When he died, the French National Assembly declared a day of mourning.
Franklin lived a long life – he died on April 17, 1790, at the age of 85. His last words were reportedly: “A dying man can do nothing easily.”
His passing marked a period of mourning for the citizens of Philadelphia, but also across the pond as his good reputation extended there after years spent as the first US ambassador to France.
According to the Constitution Center, the French adored Franklin, and considered him a “Renaissance man” because of his many talents. As a result, the French National Assembly went into mourning after he died.
One of its members, Count Mirabeau, believed Franklin was “able to restrain thunderbolts and tyrants.”