Nine things to know about Ben Franklin

You know him as a statesman, author, publisher, printer, politician, postmaster, scientist, diplomat, musician, inventor, civic activist, business strategist, and founding father. You know him as a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the treaty with Great Britain that ended the American Revolution.

Did you know…

1. He began each day with an “air bath,” sitting at his desk, unclothed, windows open.

2. He coined new words, among them battery, charged, conductor, and colonize.

3. His inventions included bifocal glasses and the urinary catheter.

4. He wrote under the pen names “Busy-Body,” “Silence Dogood,” and “The Casuist” (a person who resolves moral problems by the application of theoretical rules).

5. He engaged in flirtations, including a longstanding correspondence with Catherine Ray, whom he met when she was twenty-three and he was forty-eight. Several of their letters still survive.

6. He had an illegitimate son (the identity of the mother was never revealed), and a son (who died at age four) and a daughter with Deborah, his common-law wife.

7. An avid traveler, he spent many years abroad, while Deborah remained at their home in Philadelphia. They did not see each other for fifteen of the last seventeen years of their marriage, which ended with Deborah’s death in 1774, while Franklin was busy in London.

8. An advocate of frugality, he did not always practice what he preached. He departed France in 1785 with 126 bags, including “three Angora cats, a printing press, a sampling of mineral waters, and a variety of saplings.”[*] After returning to Philly (see 9), he built a home library that held over four thousand books.

9. He spent his final years in Philadelphia, plagued by gout and kidney stones, working on experiments, writing his autobiography, building a bigger house, attending the Constitutional Convention of 1787. A lung abscess led to his death on April 17, 1790. He was eighty-four.


[*] Page 219. “In Franklin’s Footsteps.” Written by Stacy Schiff. Essay from Paris Was Ours: Thirty-Two Writers Reflect on the City of Light, edited by Penelope Rowlands. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2011. Stacy Schiff’s essay originally appeared in Gourmet magazine.

All other details of Ben Franklin’s life from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. Written by Walter Isaacson. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks edition 2004.