List of Franklin's Inventions

Benjamin Franklin’s contributions to life in Colonial America extend far beyond his political and diplomatic work, though he was certainly an indispensable agent in the shaping of early American politics. Aside from his better-known inventions -- bifocals, for example -- Franklin worked tirelessly to explore ideas and invent devices to improve the quality of life in the U.S.; even today, myriad evidence of his creativity and intelligence permeates American culture.

  1. Bifocal Glasses

    • Franklin, who had poor vision but loved to read, became frustrated by constantly having to put on and take off his glasses. To remedy the inconvenience, he invented glasses that combined lenses for distance and reading.

    Extension Arm or "Long Arm"

    • As he got older, Franklin found himself unable to reach books on upper shelves. To remedy this, he invented the extension arm, a long device with two "fingers" at the end to grasp books.

    Flexible Urinary Catheter

    • John, Franklin's elder brother, had kidney stones. Franklin sought a way to alleviate John's pain, which resulted in the invention of the first urinary catheter in the U.S.

    Franklin Stove

    • Franklin wanted to improve upon the extant stove by creating one that produced more heat while using less wood. Although he successfully created a new stove and marketed it as the "Pennsylvania Fireplace," another inventor later modified Franklin's design to maximize efficiency, and named the updated version the Franklin Stove.

    Glass Armonica

    • After viewing a musical performance played on upright wine goblets, Franklin was inspired to invent a glass armonica operated by a foot treadle. The instrument consisted of 37 glass bowls and a standing trough of water.

    Library Chair

    • Franklin's love of reading often him led him to invention. A desire to maximize his comfort while reading motivated him to add various attachments to his library chair. These attachments, such as a foot-powered fan and reversible seat, permitted the chair to perform multiple functions.

    Lightning Rod

    • Franklin's lightning rod, another well-known invention, protected colonial homes (and homes today as well) from destruction by lightning bolt. The lightning rod would send the electricity of the lightning bolt straight to the ground, thereby rendering it harmless.


    • Franklin, who organized the first mail delivery system in the U.S., needed a standard way to measure the distance between destinations. To do so, he invented the odometer, which calculated the number of wheel rotations of a given carriage.

    Street Lighting

    • Although street lamps already existed in Franklin's day, he improved upon them by permitting oxygen to flow freely into the glass enclosures, which allowed the street lamps to burn for a substantially longer time.

    Swim Fins

    • An avid swimmer, Franklin wanted to increase his velocity in the water. By attaching makeshift "fins" shaped like lily pads to his hands, he found that he was able to swim faster.

    Three-Wheel Clock

    • Franklin invented a design for a simple three-wheel clock that used only one hand. Though not the most practical of his inventions, the three-wheel clock was certainly economical, and was later modified by James Ferguson.


    • In the course of his studies of electricity, Franklin found that the English language did not yet contain the words to describe the phenomena he observed. He coined words pertaining to studies of electricity and conductivity still used today; among them are battery, charge, condenser, conductor, plus, minus, positively, negatively and armature.

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