The Inventions and Scientific Achievements of Benjamin Franklin

It's hard to overestimate Ben Franklin's importance to the fledgling United States. The Founding Father helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and brought the French into the American Revolution. He was a statesman, diplomat, author, publisher, and inventor and contributed to scientific knowledge, famously in the manner and properties of electricity.  

One thing that he didn't invent was Daylight Saving Time. Franklin did chide Parisian "sluggards" in a satirical essay for not being early risers, noting how much money they could save on artificial lighting if they got up earlier. In it, he also joked that there should be a tax on windows with shutters to keep out the morning light, as well as other humorous ideas. Following are a few of his accomplishments.

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Armonica

Benjamin Franklin's glass armonica
Tonamel/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

"Of all my inventions, the glass armonica has given me the greatest personal satisfaction," Franklin said.

Franklin was inspired to create his own version of the armonica after listening to a concert of Handel's "Water Music" that had been played on tuned wine glasses.

Franklin's armonica, created in 1761, was smaller than the originals and did not require water tuning. His design used glass pieces that were blown in the proper size and thickness to create the proper pitch without having to be filled with water. The glasses are nested in each other—which makes the instrument more compact and playable—and are mounted on a spindle turned by a foot treadle.

His armonica won popularity in England and on the Continent. Beethoven and Mozart composed music for it. Franklin, an avid musician, kept the armonica in the blue room on the third floor of his house. He enjoyed playing armonica/harpsichord duets with his daughter Sally and bringing the instrument to get-togethers at his friends' homes.

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Franklin Stove

Fireplaces were the main source of heat for homes in the 18th century but were inefficient. They produced a lot of smoke, and most of the generated heat went right out the chimney. Sparks were of great concern because they could cause a fire and quickly destroy people's wooden homes.

Franklin developed a new style of the stove with a hoodlike enclosure in the front and an airbox in the rear. The new stove and reconfiguration of the flues allowed for a more efficient fire, one that used one-quarter as much wood and generated twice as much heat. When offered a patent for the fireplace's design, Benjamin Franklin turned it down. He did not want to make a profit; rather, he wanted all people to benefit from his invention.

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Lightning Rod

Illustration of Benjamin Franklin and Assistant Performing Lightning Experiment
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

In 1752, Franklin conducted his famous kite-flying experiments and proved that lightning is electricity. During the 1700s, lightning was a major cause of fires to buildings, which were mainly of wood construction.

Franklin wanted his experiment to be practical, so he developed the lightning rod, which attaches to the outside of a house. The top of the rod must extend higher than the roof and chimney; the other end is connected to a cable, which stretches down the side of the house to the ground. The end of the cable is then buried at least 10 feet underground. The rod conducts the lightning, sending the charge into the ground, protecting the wooden structure.

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Bifocals

Illustration of Ben Franklin Holding Drawing of Bifocals
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

In 1784, Franklin developed bifocal glasses. He was getting old and was having trouble seeing both up-close and at a distance. Getting tired of switching between two types of glasses, he devised a way to have both types of lenses fit into the frame. The distance lens was placed at the top and the up-close lens was placed at the bottom.

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Map of the Gulf Stream

Benjamin Franklin's Map of the Gulf Stream

Benjamin Franklin/Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

Franklin had always wondered why sailing from America to Europe took less time than going the other way. Finding the answer to this would help to speed travel, shipments, and mail deliveries across the ocean. He measured wind speeds and current depth, speed, and temperature and was the first scientist to study and map the Gulf Stream, describing it as a river of warm water. He mapped it as flowing north from the West Indies, along the East Coast of North America, and east across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.

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Odometer

While serving as Postmaster General in 1775, Franklin decided to analyze the best routes for delivering the mail. He invented a simple odometer that he attached to his carriage to help measure the mileage of the routes.