List of Franklin's Inventions

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Benjamin Franklin's innovations and inventions still influence contemporary culture.

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, Franklin invented glasses that combined the two lenses.

    Extension Arm or "Long Arm"

    • Due to Franklin's frequent visits to the library he founded in Philadelphia, he discovered that he was frequently unable to reach books on the upper shelves. To remedy this, he invented the extension arm, a long device with two "fingers" attached at the end to grasp books.

    Flexible Urinary Catheter

    • John, Franklin's elder brother, suffered from kidney stones. Though not deeply involved in studies of biology, 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

    • Initially, Franklin wanted to improve upon the extant stove by creating one that used less wood but would create more heat. Although he successfully created a new stove and marketed it as the "Pennsylvania Fireplace," an inventor later modified Franklin's design to maximize efficiency, and named the modified version the Franklin Stove.

    Glass Armonica

    • After viewing a musical performance played on upright wine goblets, Franklin was inspired to invent the glass armonica, which contained glasses of different diameters within a standing trough of water.

    Library Chair

    • Franklin's love of reading often him lead him to invention. In this instance, Franklin's desire to maximize his comfort while reading in his chair lead him to add various attachments. These attachments, such as a foot-powered fan and reversible seat, permitted the library 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.

    Odometer

    • 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

    • Ever the outdoorsman, Franklin wanted to increase his swimming speed. By attaching makeshift "fins" shaped like lily pads to his hands, he found that he was able to increase his speed in the water.

    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.

    Words

    • 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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