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8 Revolutionary Breakthroughs: Ben Franklin’s Inventions

Image of a statue of Benjamin Franklin

Ben Franklin’s inventions, which not only made a profound impact during his time, continue to shape the world even today.

In this article, we will look at 8 of Ben Franklin’s key inventions and their impact on the world.

Ben Franklin invented various items, from practical daily use items to scientific breakthroughs that have advanced society:

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Franklin’s inventions were driven by his curiosity, practicality, and desire to make life easier and more comfortable for his fellow humans.

His inventions were ahead of their time and significantly contributed to society.

Franklin’s inventions continue to influence and shape the modern world from bifocals to lightning rods.

Join us as we delve into the fascinating inventions of Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin Inventions That Changed the World

In the realm of Benjamin Franklin’s remarkable inventions, the lightning rod takes center stage as a game-changer in electrical safety.

With its innovative design and purpose, Franklin’s lightning rod revolutionized how buildings and structures are protected from the devastating forces of lightning strikes.

Image of the inventor of the lightning rod, Ben Franklin
Arguably, the most iconic of all Ben Franklin’s inventions was the lightning rod

1. The Lightning Rod

Benjamin Franklin’s lightning rod invention is one of his most famous and important scientific contributions.

In the mid-18th century, Franklin became interested in the phenomenon of lightning and began conducting experiments to better understand it.

He believed lightning was a form of electricity and could be harnessed to power machines and devices.

However, he also recognized lightning’s danger to buildings and people.

To address this issue, Franklin invented the lightning rod in 1752.

The basic design involved a metal rod attached to a conductor, which was then grounded into the earth.

When lightning strikes, the rod attracts the electrical charge and safely directs it into the ground, preventing damage to the building or harm to people inside.

The lightning rod invention was a revolutionary breakthrough in electrical engineering, and it quickly became popular worldwide.

The impact of Benjamin Franklin’s lightning rod invention on science cannot be overstated.

It helped establish the field of electrical engineering and paved the way for countless other breakthroughs.

It also had practical applications, making buildings safer and reducing the fire risk caused by lightning strikes.

More broadly, Franklin’s invention was emblematic of his practical and curious approach to science, and it remains an enduring symbol of his legacy today.

Image of Ben Franklin's bifocal invention
Bifocals at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

2. Bifocal Glasses

Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s Founding Fathers, invented bifocal glasses in the 1780s.

Before his invention, people used separate spectacles for reading and distance vision, which was cumbersome.

Franklin’s bifocal lenses allowed people to see near and far distances by looking up or down.

This invention was groundbreaking, revolutionizing vision correction and making reading and daily activities much easier for people with presbyopia, a common age-related condition affecting near vision.

The bifocal lens that Franklin invented combined two lenses with different optical powers.

The top part of the lens was for distance vision, while the bottom was for near vision.

This design allowed people with both nearsightedness and farsightedness to see clearly.

Franklin’s invention was so popular that it quickly became a fashionable accessory, and many people started wearing bifocals as a status symbol.

Franklin’s bifocal invention significantly impacted science and medicine, as it paved the way for the development of modern corrective lenses.

Today, bifocals are commonly prescribed by optometrists for people who have presbyopia, and they are widely available in eyeglasses and contact lenses.

The bifocal lens also inspired the development of trifocal and progressive lenses, which offer even more advanced vision correction.

Franklin’s invention of bifocals remains an enduring symbol of his practical approach to science and his commitment to improving the lives of others through innovation.

Image of Ben Franklin's Franklin Stove
Ben Franklin‚Äôs inventions (c. 1741) include his famous wood stove, the aptly named ‚ÄúFranklin Stove‚ÄĚ

3. The Franklin Stove

Benjamin Franklin’s stove, also known as the Franklin stove, was a revolutionary heating device that changed how people kept their homes warm and cozy.

Invented in 1741, the Franklin stove was designed to improve the efficiency of traditional open fireplaces, which wasted a significant amount of heat and released harmful smoke into the air.

The Franklin stove was cast iron and featured a series of baffles and flues that allowed smoke to escape while retaining heat within the stove.

The stove significantly improved over traditional fireplaces, quickly becoming popular in colonial America.

The Franklin stove significantly impacted the science of heating and ventilation, paving the way for developing more efficient heating systems still used today.

Franklin’s stove helped reduce energy waste and improve air quality in homes and other buildings by improving the efficiency of heating systems.

The Franklin stove was also an important precursor to the modern furnace, which uses similar principles to distribute heat throughout a building.

Despite its many benefits, the Franklin stove was not without its drawbacks.

The stove was difficult to use and required frequent maintenance to remain safe and efficient.

Nevertheless, the Franklin stove remains an important part of American history and a testament to the ingenuity of one of the country’s greatest inventors.

Image of a modern recreation of Ben Franklin's Glass Armonica
Ben Franklin‚Äôs inventions move into the world of music ‚Äď
a modern reproduction of Ben Franklin’s glass armonica (designed c. 1761)

4. The Glass Armonica

Benjamin Franklin’s glass armonica, also known as the glass harmonica, is a musical instrument that consists of a series of spinning glass bowls that produce musical notes when touched with wet fingers.

Franklin invented the instrument in 1761, quickly becoming popular among musicians and composers.

The glass armonica was especially popular among women, who were fascinated by its ethereal, otherworldly sound.

The glass armonica had a significant impact on music and science.

It inspired composers such as Mozart and Beethoven to create new works that showcased the instrument’s unique sound.

It also influenced the development of other musical instruments, such as the celesta and the vibraphone.

In science, Franklin’s invention of the glass armonica helped advance our understanding of acoustics and the physics of sound.

Despite its popularity, the glass armonica eventually fell out of favor due to concerns about the health effects of playing the instrument.

Some believed that the vibrations from the spinning glass bowls could cause nervous disorders and even madness.

However, modern research has shown that these concerns were unfounded.

Today, a few musicians still play the glass armonica, and is considered an important part of Benjamin Franklin’s legacy as an inventor and innovator.

Image of Ben Franklin's urinary catheter design
Ben Franklin’s urinary catheter schematic (designed c. 1752)

5. The Flexible Urinary Catheter

Benjamin Franklin was an inventor, scientist, and statesman who lived in the 18th century.

One of his lesser-known inventions was the flexible urinary catheter, which he designed in 1752.

At the time, catheters were made of rigid materials like metal or ivory, causing discomfort and even injury to patients.

Franklin’s catheter was made of flexible hinged segments, allowing it to bend and conform to the shape of the patient’s urinary tract, greatly improving comfort and safety.

The flexible urinary catheter significantly impacted the field of medicine, revolutionizing the treatment of urinary tract issues.

Franklin’s invention was widely adopted by doctors and quickly became the standard for catheterization procedures.

It also paved the way for developing other flexible medical devices, such as endoscopes and catheterization tools for other body parts.

Today, flexible catheters are still widely used in medical procedures, saving countless lives and improving patient comfort.

In addition to its medical impact, Franklin’s flexible urinary catheter reflects his lifelong dedication to improving the lives of others through innovation and problem-solving.

Franklin was a prolific inventor, with over 20 patents and countless innovations.

His catheter is just one example of his ability to identify a problem, develop a solution, and bring it to market.

Franklin’s legacy as an inventor and innovator inspires people worldwide today.

Image of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, where Ben Franklin likely tested his swim fin invention
Ben Franklin‚Äôs favorite place to swim and likely ‚Äútesting ground‚ÄĚ for his
swim fin concept, the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

6. Swim Fins

Benjamin Franklin’s swim fins invention is a testament to his ingenuity and problem-solving skills.

In the 18th century, swimming was not as popular or common as it is today, and those who did swim often used cumbersome equipment such as wooden paddles.

Franklin saw the need for a better solution and designed swim fins in 1717.

His fins were made of wood and resembled the shape of fish fins, allowing swimmers to move through the water more efficiently and with less effort.

While Franklin’s swim fins may seem like a small invention, their impact was significant.

They made swimming more accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages and abilities.

Additionally, Franklin’s design influenced the development of modern swim fins, which are now made of lightweight materials and come in various shapes and sizes.

Swim fins are now used for recreational swimming competitive swimming, diving, and other water sports.

Franklin’s swim fin invention reflects his commitment to physical fitness and healthy living.

He was an avid swimmer and believed regular exercise was essential for maintaining good health.

His swim fins provided a practical and effective way for people to enjoy the benefits of swimming and stay active.

Franklin’s swim fins were a simple yet innovative solution that impacted swimming and physical fitness.

Image of Ben Franklin's odometer
Ben Franklin’s inventions include the odometer (c. 1775)

7. The Odometer

Benjamin Franklin’s odometer was an innovative device used to measure the distance traveled by a vehicle.

It was invented in 1775 and improved over the previous models of inaccurate odometers.

Franklin’s odometer was designed to measure the distance traveled by a carriage or any other vehicle with great precision, using a series of gears and chains.

The odometer was a significant invention because it helped to revolutionize how transportation was measured, making it easier to calculate distances traveled and improve the efficiency of transportation systems.

Franklin’s odometer significantly impacted the transportation industry, enabling transportation companies to accurately measure distances traveled by their vehicles and improve their efficiency.

The odometer helped to reduce travel time and increase the accuracy of transportation schedules.

This was particularly important in the 18th century when transportation was still in its early stages of development.

The odometer also made it easier for people to travel long distances, as they could now accurately calculate their distance and how much further they had to go.

Overall, the odometer was a groundbreaking invention that significantly impacted the transportation industry and paved the way for the development of more advanced measuring devices.

Franklin’s odometer was a testament to his dedication to innovation and his commitment to improving the lives of others through his inventions.

Today, the odometer is still widely used in modern vehicles, and its impact on the transportation industry continues to be felt.

Image of a bookshelf and old books
Franklin invented a grabbing device called a ‚Äúlong arm‚ÄĚ to, among
other things, retrieve books from out-of-reach spots on bookshelves

8. the Long Arm (Reaching Device)

Benjamin Franklin‚Äôs long arm reaching device, also known as the ‚Äúlong arm‚ÄĚ or the ‚Äúextension arm,‚ÄĚ was invented in the 18th century to help people reach objects that were out of their reach.

The device was essentially a long pole with a claw-like mechanism at the end that could grab onto objects and bring them closer to the user.

This invention revolutionized how people performed tasks, especially those with mobility issues or disabilities.

The impact of Franklin’s long arm reaching device was significant, as it greatly improved the quality of life for people who had difficulty reaching objects due to physical limitations.

With the long arm, people could reach items on high shelves, grab things from under furniture, and perform other tasks that were previously impossible.

This made daily activities much easier and more manageable, especially for older adults and people with disabilities.

Today, Franklin’s long arm reaching device variations are still widely used in many industries, including healthcare, construction, and retail.

The device has become a staple in many homes and workplaces, and its impact on society is still felt today.

Overall, Franklin’s long arm reaching device was a simple yet innovative solution that improved the lives of millions of people, and its legacy lives on to this day.

Image of an engraving of scientist, inventor, and statesman, Benjamin Franklin
Portrait of scientist, inventor, and statesman, Ben Franklin

Wrap-up: Benjamin Franklin Inventions

In conclusion, Benjamin Franklin was a true Renaissance man whose inventions and discoveries continue to impact our world today.

Franklin’s ingenuity and creativity knew no bounds, from the lightning rod to the bifocal glasses.

His inventions revolutionized various industries, from communication to electricity, and his legacy has continued to inspire inventors and scientists for centuries.

As we look back on Franklin’s contributions to the world of invention, we can’t help but be amazed by his foresight and determination.

His innovative spirit paved the way for countless technological advancements, and his impact on society cannot be overstated.

So, let us continue to honor his legacy by embracing our own creativity and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

Ultimately, we have Benjamin Franklin to thank for making our world better through his inventions and discoveries.

His legacy will continue to inspire us for generations to come, and his impact on the world of invention will never be forgotten.

Check out my articles The 50 Oldest U.S. Colleges: Discovering America’s History Through Education and Renaissance Man: 10 Interesting Facts About Benjamin Franklin for more on the man and his contributions to higher education and science in general.

Image of a postage stamp honoring Ben Franklin's work as a scientist and inventor
2006 U.S. postage stamp honoring Benjamin Franklin’s scientific work

FAQs: Benjamin Franklin Inventions

1. Which of Benjamin Franklin’s inventions had the most impact?

Benjamin Franklin’s inventions had significant impacts in various fields, but one of his inventions that had a particularly profound and lasting impact was the lightning rod.


The lightning rod revolutionized the field of lightning protection and substantially affected the safety of buildings and structures.


Before Franklin’s lightning rod, structures were highly vulnerable to lightning strikes, which could result in devastating fires and destruction.


Franklin’s invention provided a practical solution to mitigate the risks associated with lightning strikes.


By attracting lightning strikes and providing a safe path for the electrical discharge to reach the ground, the lightning rod prevented fires and protected buildings, thus enhancing public safety.


The widespread adoption of Franklin’s lightning rod saved countless lives and had broader societal implications.


It influenced architectural design and construction practices, leading to the development of safer structures.


It also stimulated further research into the nature of electricity and lightning, contributing to the scientific understanding of these phenomena.


Furthermore, the lightning rod’s impact extended beyond buildings.


Its success sparked interest in other electricity-related fields, inspiring further research and advancements in electrical engineering, power distribution, and lightning protection systems.


Overall, Benjamin Franklin’s lightning rod invention had a transformative impact by revolutionizing lightning protection and significantly improving the safety of buildings and structures.



Its adoption influenced safety standards, inspired scientific research, and paved the way for subsequent advancements in electrical engineering, making it one of Ben Franklin’s inventions with enduring and far-reaching effects.




2. Did Benjamin Franklin patent his inventions?

No, Benjamin Franklin did not patent any of his inventions.


He believed in the free exchange of ideas and thought that his inventions should be freely available for the benefit of society.


He often wrote detailed descriptions of his inventions in letters, journals, and newspapers so that others could replicate and improve upon them.


This open-source philosophy was quite revolutionary for the time, and his inventions have impacted society.




3. Why is Benjamin Franklin often called ‚ÄėAmerica‚Äôs First Scientist‚Äô?

Benjamin Franklin is often called ‚ÄėAmerica‚Äôs First Scientist‚Äô due to his significant contributions to various scientific fields and the application of the scientific method.


His experiments and observations, especially those on electricity, laid the groundwork for many modern theories and understandings.


Furthermore, Franklin was a strong advocate of the sharing of scientific knowledge.


As mentioned in the prior question, he never patented his inventions, believing they should be freely available for the benefit of all.


His commitment to open communication and the sharing of scientific ideas was instrumental in promoting the advancement of science.


Franklin’s contributions extended beyond science, touching many areas, including politics, writing, and diplomacy.


This founding father’s broad expertise and influence, combined with his significant scientific contributions, make him a prominent figure in the history of American science.




References: Benjamin Franklin Inventions

‚ÄúA Brief History of Urinary Catheters.‚ÄĚ Www.urotoday.com, www.urotoday.com/urinary-catheters-home/history-of-urinary-catheters.html.

‚ÄúBen Franklin‚Äôs Electricity Experiments: For Whom the Bells Toll.‚ÄĚ Www.ushistory.org, www.ushistory.org/franklin/science/kite3.htm. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

‚ÄúBen Franklin‚Äôs Inventions: Swim Fins.‚ÄĚ Ushistory.org, 2020, www.ushistory.org/franklin/science/swimfins.htm.

cmccole. ‚ÄúBenjamin Franklin‚Äôs Inventions | the Franklin Institute.‚ÄĚ Fi.edu, 7 July 2017, fi.edu/en/science-and-education/benjamin-franklin/inventions.

Franklin, Benjamin. ‚ÄúScientist and Inventor ‚Äď Benjamin Franklin: In His Own Words | Exhibitions ‚Äď Library of Congress.‚ÄĚ Www.loc.gov, 16 Aug. 2010, www.loc.gov/exhibits/franklin/franklin-scientist.html#36.

https://www.howstuffworks.com/john-fuller-author.htm. ‚ÄúTop 10 Ben Franklin Inventions.‚ÄĚ HowStuffWorks, 12 Jan. 2011, science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/famous-inventors/10-ben-franklin-inventions.htm.

kelinich. ‚ÄúFranklin‚Äôs Lightning Rod | the Franklin Institute.‚ÄĚ Fi.edu, 8 Mar. 2014, fi.edu/en/science-and-education/collection/benjamin-franklin/lightning-rod.

Ops. ‚ÄúBenjamin Franklin and the Glass Armonica ‚Äď Benjamin Franklin House.‚ÄĚ Benjamin Franklin House, benjaminfranklinhouse.org/benjamin-franklin-and-the-glass-armonica/.

‚ÄúScientist and Inventor.‚ÄĚ Bensguide.gpo.gov, bensguide.gpo.gov/about-ben-and-gpo/18-about-ben/153-scientist-and-inventor.

Smithsonian Lemelson Center. ‚ÄúBenjamin Franklin‚Äôs Inventions.‚ÄĚ Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, 16 Dec. 2016, invention.si.edu/benjamin-franklin-s-inventions.

‚ÄúThe Evolution of the Franklin Stove: From Invention to Modern Efficiency.‚ÄĚ HowStuffWorks, 18 Aug. 2023, science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/inventions/franklin-stove.htm.

www.bibliopolis.com. ‚ÄúThe Long Arm of Benjamin Franklin.‚ÄĚ Ian Brabner, Rare Americana, LLC, www.rareamericana.com/articles/benjamin-franklin-inventor.