Guides and Materials About Mr. Franklin
An Introduction
Ben Across the Curriculum
Essay Contest
Essay Contest


Did you know that Franklin belongs to 14 different Halls of Fame, including the CIA Hall of Fame, the International Swimming Hall of Fame, the Pennsylvania Swimming Hall of Fame, Health Care Hall of Fame, Boston Latin School Hall of Fame, Electrostatics Hall of Fame, the American Mensa Hall of Fame, the World Chess Hall of Fame, United States Swim Schools Association Hall of Fame, Cooperative Hall of Fame, Self-Publishing Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, and the Insurance Hall of Fame? He was also inducted into the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame in 2004, for producing the first catalog, which sold scientific and academic books. Moreover, the catalog came with the first mail order guarantee: “Those persons who live remote, by sending their orders and money to B. Franklin may depend on the same justice as if present.”


Did you know that Franklin has TWO birthdays? His birth certificate says he was born on January 6, 1706. Because it takes just a little more than 365 days for the Earth to rotate around the Sun, calendars eventually shift out of line with the seasons unless adjustments are made (like leap years and leap seconds). In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII instigated a change, alarmed at how far Easter’s date had slipped out of line, but England and the British colonies did not make the shift from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar until 1752. By this time, the calendar was 11 whole days behind “real” astronomical time, so by legal decree, on September 2, 1752, at midnight, it became September 14. Hence Franklin was born on the 6th AND the 17th!


Did you know that in 1783 Franklin witnessed the first manned balloon flight, and was among the scientists who signed an official certification of this historic achievement for the Montgolfier brothers? Although initially he could see no practical use for balloon flight, his curiosity was piqued by the strange new phenomenon, and he financed another balloonist, Jacques Charles, who championed hydrogen over the Montgolfier’s hot air. By January the next year, Franklin was writing to his friend Jan Ingenhousz suggesting that balloons “may possibly give a new Turn to human Affairs.” He argued that no ground army would ever be able to mount a sufficient defense against an onslaught of “Five thousand Balloons capable of raising two Men each” and hoped that this would ultimately convince “Sovereigns of the Folly of Wars.” On a more practical level, Franklin’s grandson, Temple, received history’s first airmail letter, carried across the English Channel by balloon in December 1784.


Did you know that Franklin’s picture has appeared on every $100 bill since 1928? His portrait was used on the first $100 banknote issued by the Federal Reserve, in 1914, but the reverse shows allegorical figures representing labor, plenty, America, peace, and commerce, rather than the vignette of Independence Hall used today. From 1948 to 1963, Franklin’s portrait also appeared on the U.S. half dollar (50 cent coin), and in 2006, he will be commemorated with two silver dollars, one showing him as a scientist, and one showing him as a statesman. Although the Treasury Department says their records do not show why Franklin was selected for the $100 bill, he is an appropriate choice: Franklin not only printed currency using an ingenious anti-counterfeiting technique, and suggested the design for the first U.S. one cent coin (the “Fugio” penny), he also argued strongly for the usefulness of paper currency in his 1729 pamphlet, “A Modest Enquiry in to the Nature and Necessity of a Paper-Currency”.


Did you know that Franklin published the first non-English language newspaper in colonial America? In 1732, he started the German language Philadelphische Zeitung, which soon failed. Franklin taught himself five languages – French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and German – which he spoke with varying degrees of fluency. For example, he told Italian physicist Giambatista Beccaria, in 1766, that, “I am pleased to hear that you read English, although you do not write it. I am in the same case with Italian.”


Did you know that Franklin wrote to, and received mail from at least 650 different correspondents, spanning an astonishing range of men and women of different classes and professions in America, Great Britain, and Europe? Since 1954, a team of scholars at Yale University has been collecting, editing, and publishing Franklin’s complete writings, with 38 volumes published to date, and the entire edition projected to reach 47 volumes. Visit The Papers of Benjamin Franklin online at to find out more about the project.


Did you know that Franklin was the first to propose daylight saving time, in a 1784 letter to the editors of the Journal of Paris. His suggestion was not particularly serious, however – the purpose of his article was to poke fun at Parisian high-society for staying up all night and sleeping in till past noon. Nonetheless, he calculated that Parisian families could save 96 million pre-revolutionary French pounds in candle wax and tallow from rising earlier in the summer. When Daylight Saving Time was first formally introduced, first by Germany and then by Britain and the USA, during World War I, it was for the same reasons of fuel conservation and economy first noted by Franklin.


Did you know that Franklin loved music, and not only invented an instrument, the glass armonica, but also played the harp, viola da gamba (similar to a cello), and the harpsichord? He could also play the whistle and violin, to a lesser degree, the guitar. He composed the lyrics for drinking songs, admired the “simple Beauty” of Scottish folk-music, and composed a quartet in F major for open strings.


Did you know that Franklin invented the first flexible catheter? His brother John wrote to him from Boston complaining of illness and a need for assistance in urinating. Franklin promptly came up with a design, and “went immediately to the Silversmith’s and gave Directions for making one, (sitting by ‘till it was finish’d), that it might be ready for this Post.”


Did you know that Franklin nearly became a swimming coach? He was an accomplished and enthusiastic swimmer, having first taught himself by paddling around as a young boy, and then perfected his strokes by reading an illustrated treatise called “The Art of swimming ... with advice for bathing.” In his late teens, while working in London, Franklin showed off his swimming skills to friends: “I stript and leapt into the River, and swam from near Chelsea to Blackfryars, performing on the way many Feats of Activity both upon and under Water...” His “Feats” were widely discussed, and a few months later, Sir William Wyndham approached Franklin to ask him to teach his sons to swim. Franklin recalled in his Autobiography that, “From this Incident I thought it likely, that if I were to remain in England and open a Swimming School, I might get a good Deal of Money. And it struck me so strongly, that had the Overture been sooner made me, probably I should not so soon have returned to America.”


Did you know that Franklin suggested that the turkey be the national bird, rather than the bald eagle? In a 1784 letter to his daughter, Sally, he said that, “For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character [...] in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.”


Did you know that Franklin was named after his uncle Benjamin, “there being a particular Affection between him and my Father”? Uncle Benjamin was apparently “an ingenious Man,” who wrote his own poetry and took shorthand notes of sermons, of which he had “many Volumes”. Uncle Benjamin also wrote this acrostic for his young nephew:

B-e to thy parents an obedient son,
E-ach day let duty constantly be done.
N-ever give way to sloth or lust or pride,
I-f free you’d be from thousand ills beside;
A-bove all ills, be sure avoid the shelf;
M-an’s danger lies in Satan, sin, and self.
I-n virtue, learning, wisdom progress make,
N-e’er shrink at suffering for thy Saviour’s sake.
F-raud and all falsehood in thy dealings flee,
R-eligious always in thy station be,
A-dore the maker of thy inward part.
N-ow’s the accepted time; give God thy heart.
K-eep a good conscience, ’tis a constant friend;
L-ike judge and witness this thy act attend.
I-n heart, with bended knee, alone, adore
N-one but the Three-in-One forevermore.


Did you know that Franklin’s father Josiah was a tallow-chandler and soapmaker, although in his native England, he had trained as a silk dyer? Franklin’s mother, Abiah Folger, was born in Nantucket, and was Josiah’s second wife. His first, Ann Child, had died after the birth of their seventh child, Joseph, who also died shortly thereafter. Franklin had five living step-siblings when he was born, the eldest of which, Elizabeth, was 28 years older than him. Benjamin was Abiah’s eighth child, although by the time he was born, his brother Ebenezer Franklin had already died (aged 16 months) by drowning in a tub of suds. Abiah had two more children after Benjamin – Franklin’s younger sisters Lydia and (his particular favorite) Jane. Franklin was born on a Sunday, and baptized the same day at Old South Church, across the street.


Did you know what happened to Franklin’s children? His eldest child, the illegitimate William, was brought up as part of the Franklin family, and was close to his father, helping him with his electrical experiments and civic ventures. In his mid-twenties, William began to read law, and completed his studies at the Middle Temple in London after traveling there with his father in 1757. He was appointed Royal Governor of New Jersey in August 1762, and on September 4, 1762, he married Elizabeth Downes. The Revolution found Benjamin and William on opposite sides of the battle, which caused a permanent split in their relationship. Franklin refused to intercede on his son’s behalf when he was imprisoned as a Loyalist in 1776, and they met just one more time in their lives, to settle debts and transfer real estate.

William had just one son, William Temple Franklin, who also was illegitimate and whose mother also has never been identified. Temple accompanied Benjamin, his grandfather, to France in late 1776 and worked as secretary to the American diplomatic mission. After Franklin died, Temple lived for a while with his father in England, and had an illegitimate daughter, Ellen. He then moved to France, won and lost a fortune in real estate speculation, and died in poverty in Paris in 1823. He is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Franklin’s second child, Francis Folger Franklin, died at age 4 from smallpox. His youngest child, Sarah (Sally), married Richard Bache (against her father’s advice), and had seven children. She also was active in the Revolution, supervising the sewing of 2,200 shirts for American soldiers. She took care of Franklin upon his return to Philadelphia from Paris, and after he died, sold the diamonds from a miniature portrait of Louis XVI to travel to London for the first time. In 1794 the Bache family moved to a farm outside of Philadelphia on the Delaware River, and Sally died in 1808.


Did you know that Franklin was so sure that fresh air was important for good health that he took a daily “air bath”? He wrote to the French physician, Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg, describing it thus: “I rise early almost every morning and sit in my chamber, without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing.”


Did you know what Franklin thought about the future? As a scientist he was tantalized by the prospect of future progress, and speculated on everything from population growth (author Philip Dray notes that the 1890 census differed from Franklin’s predictions by only 0.13%) to flying. Writing to his friend, Joseph Priestley, Franklin said, “We may perhaps learn to deprive large Masses of their Gravity & give them absolute Levity, for the sake of easy Transport. Agriculture may diminish its Labour & double its Produce. All Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured.” He hoped he might still witness these marvels, writing to a friend at the end of his life that, “I believe I shall, in some Shape or other, always exist.” Terms of Use Credits