Curious Facts About Benjamin Franklin That Are Left Out Of History Books

Benjamin Franklin is one of the most prominent figures of American history. There was little that Franklin couldn’t do. The polymath was born into a modest family in 1706 and despite only two years of formal education, he would later gain acclaim as an author, printer, politician, scientist, inventor, statesman, and freemason, among other things. But did you also know that he was a serial womanizer? Or how he believed we should all be able to fart freely? There are plenty of interesting tidbits about this founding father that the textbooks don’t teach you. Read on to see what they are!

At one point he was even a French fashion icon!

He Became A French Style Icon

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin...
DeAgostini/Getty Images

Benjamin Franklin was sent to France in 1776 to seek aid for the revolution. At that point, French people had this idea that Americans were rustic frontiersmen, so Franklin purposefully wore plain clothes and a fur hat. The look took off in France and became his trademark in portraits.

Women tried to emulate the look with huge wigs fashioned in a style called “coiffure a la Franklin.” When Ben Franklin signed the 1778 treaty between France and the U.S., he wore white headgear and many men took to copying that look as well.

That was only a taste of how huge his celebrity had become. As you’ll soon see, the French people became obsessed…

Human Bones Were Found Buried In His Basement

Benjamin Franklin�s House, London, 2006.
SSPL/Getty Images

As an ambassador for the American colonies, Benjamin Franklin lived in London from 1757 to 1775, in a four-story house at No. 36 Craven Street. In 1998, the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House began converting the home into a museum in Franklin’s honor but discovered a human thigh bone sticking out of the dirt in the basement.

This prompted a police-supervised excavation, which found the remains of ten bodies. As it turned out, the bones were the study of anatomist William Hewson, who Franklin allowed to live in his house. There’s no way of knowing if Franklin himself knew what was going on in the basement.

He Was A Notorious Womanizer

Franklins Reception At The Court Of France
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Benjamin Franklin may be revered in history as a sort of jack of all trades, but there’s a darker side to him that we aren’t taught in history books. The man was a serial womanizer, despite having a wife of 38 years, Deborah Read.

Franklin took on plenty of mistresses, even for short periods, and blamed it on his insatiable appetite. He is said to have fathered up to 15 illegitimate children. He even admitted in his autobiography, “the hard-to-be-governed passion of my youth had hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way.”

He Became The First American Celebrity

Franklin, Benjamin
Prisma/UIG/Getty Images

Back in the mid-18th century, Ben Franklin’s heydey, the world’s most well-known musicians, thinkers, artists, and scientists all hailed from Europe. But Franklin, being the Renaissance man that he was, became a worldwide celebrity in his own right, especially after he became the international voice of the United States.

People had little concept of America back in Franklin’s day and he became a spectacle when visiting other countries. France, in particular, was smitten with the man and put his likeness onto snuff boxes and medallions. French citizens even put engravings of him up on their walls.

Coming up, you’ll see why you couldn’t trust Ben Franklin with the Thanksgiving turkey…

He Never Patented His Inventions

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

Benjamin Franklin was a keen inventor but surprisingly, he never felt the need to patent any of his creations. Franklin designed all of his inventions to make everyday life easier and therefore believed that they were gifts to the public.

"As we enjoy the advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously," he wrote in his autobiography. But because he never patented anything, he likely lost out on huge fortunes.

He Only Had Two Years Of Formal Education

Portrait Of Benjamin Franklin
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Benjamin Franklin’s thirst for knowledge has led him to become one of the most revered figures in American history for his intelligence. Surprisingly, Franklin only had two years of formal education at Boston Latin School and a private academy before having to quit at age 12 to join the family business making candles and soap.

Later, while working as an apprentice at his brother’s print shop, Franklin spent all his money on books, reading essays and articles then rewriting them from memory. He was entirely self-taught and went on to earn honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and others, while also founding what would become the University of Pennsylvania.

He Can’t Be Trusted With Thanksgiving

Benjamin Franklin Getting Electricity from Lightening
Bettmann/Getty Images

During Thanksgiving of 1748, Franklin thought he’d have a little fun and entertain guests by creating a meal entirely with electricity. At a picnic along the Schuylkill River, Franklin had an ambitious plan: “A turkey is to be killed for our dinner by electrical shock, and roasted by the electrical jack, before a fire kindled by the electrified bottle…”

Unfortunately, Franklin’s venture did not go according to plan. Instead, he was engulfed in a flash of light as he was electrocuted while trying to cook the turkey but later wrote to his brother that his biggest injury was to his ego.

That wasn’t the only crazy thing he did. He even posed as a woman and became pretty popular for it…

He Was Briefly Vegetarian

Benjamin Franklin by David Martin
VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

As a teen, Benjamin Franklin tried going vegetarian not because of a love for animals but rather, it had economic advantages. In one of his writings, Franklin recalls coming across a text by Thomas Tryon, which historians assume to be The Way to Health, Wealth, and Happiness. In it, Tryon recommends a vegetarian diet and Franklin was determined to stick with it.

During this time, his brother put him up with another family, who found Franklin’s new diet inconvenient. Franklin moved out on his own and found that by abstaining from meat, he had more money for books and was more clear-minded at work.

He Enjoyed Air Baths

Portrait Of Benjamin Franklin
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Benjamin Franklin enjoyed taking “air baths” for his health. He would open all the windows in his home to let the air circulate, then sit in front of an open window in the nude, believing that having no clothes on increased the benefits of the air bath.

He even did this during the winter because he believed it wasn’t cold weather that caused people to get sick. In his mind, hanging around in close quarters made it easier for germs to fester and infect you. He came up with this theory due to his breathing problems.

He Left Money In His Will For The Future

South Korean Economy Boosted As Won Jumps To New High
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

In his will, Ben Franklin left 2,000 pounds of sterling to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia when he died in April 1790. It was a hefty sum at the time that came with a catch. For the first 100 years, the money had to be put into a trust and could only be loaned out to local tradesmen.

Afterward, a small percentage could be used but the rest had to be saved for another 100 years, at which point the cities could use the money as they pleased. The cities honored those wishes and by 1990, it was all worth $4.5 million and $2 million, respectively. They used it to build the Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, Boston’s Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, and for scholarships for trade school students.

He Penned An Essay Titled "Fart Proudly"

Benjamin Franklin
Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images

While living abroad as U.S. Ambassador to France, Franklin noticed how the academic circles he was mingling with were pretentious and concerned with trivial matters. In order to express his vulgar side, Franklin wrote an essay that proposed finding a solution to the odor that accompanies flatulence.

He noticed that many were restricting themselves from letting one pass, just to avoid embarrassment. The essay was never published but sent to his friend, Welsh philosopher Richard Price. Franklin suggested conducting tests of farting and developing a drug that can be taken with food so that farting wouldn’t be as offensive as it was.

He Posed As A Widowed Female Writer

Benjamin Franklin
Culture Club/Getty Images

While working in Boston as his older brother’s apprentice, 16-year-old Benjamin Franklin began secretly submitting essays to his brother’s weekly paper called The New England Courant. Franklin submitted these essays under the pseudonym “Silence Dogood,” acting as a fictitious widow who wrote about fashion, marriage, women’s rights, and religion.

The Mrs. Dogood articles became a hit and she even began receiving marriage proposals. It wasn’t long before Franklin had to reveal that he was Silence Dogood and his brother wasn’t very happy about it. Sick of being an apprentice, Franklin quit and moved to Philadelphia.

Benjamin Franklin had some pretty wild ideas, such as getting rid of the alphabet as you’ll soon see…

He Helped Found The First Volunteer Fire Department

Philadelphia Cityscapes And City Views
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Ben Franklin noticed a lot of things about his society that needed improving and one of them was a way to prevent fires. Back then, fire prevention methods weren’t as efficient and Franklin wrote several articles about it in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

As a result of his observation, the Union Fire Company was founded in 1736. America’s first volunteer fire department was even commonly known as Benjamin Franklin’s Bucket Brigade. This was just one of many ways that Franklin devoted his work to bettering society.

He Is In The International Swimming Hall Of Fame

Benjamin Franklin, American theorist on static electricity, c 1740s.
SSPL/Getty Images

Benjamin Franklin was an avid swimmer during his time. Swimming was something he enjoyed ever since his childhood in Boston. In fact, he even invented a pair of wooden hand paddles that helped him swim through the Charles River, after he tried to make flippers for his feet (it didn’t work out).

In the 1720s while living in England, Franklin often swam in the Thames and a friend was so impressed, they offered to help him build a swimming pool. Though Franklin declined, he thought it was essential for kids to learn how to swim. As a result, he became an honorary inductee into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

He Thought We Needed A New Alphabet

Benjamin_Franklin's_alphabet_ sample_letter
Wikimedia Commons

Of the many things that Franklin considered inefficient was the English alphabet. He took it upon himself to develop one that used a “more natural order” than what was already in place. Franklin’s alphabet prioritized letters by sound and vocal effort, preferring “sounds formed by the breath, with none or very little help of tongue, teeth, and lips; and produced chiefly in the windpipe.”

As a result, he determined that we no longer needed the letters C, J, Q, W, X, and Y, while combining others, all with the intention of limiting letters to one sound each.

Read on to see what game Ben Franklin loved so much, he was unsurprisingly inducted into the Hall of Fame for it.

He Became The First U.S. Postmaster General

Thomas Jefferson Reading To Franklin by Clyde Osmer de Land
Bettmann/Getty Images

After he had already founded his own successful print shop, distributing The Pennsylvania Gazette and the Poor Richard’s Almanack, the British Crown Post appointed Ben Franklin as the postmaster of Philadelphia in 1937. He soon ascended the ranks to joint postmaster general under Britain, overseeing postal roads, Post Offices, and developing an accounting method for postmasters.

Later in 1775, Franklin was appointed the Postmaster General under the Continental Congress. He was responsible for all post offices from Massachusetts to Georgia and he had the authority to hire other postmasters.

He Was An Original Storm Chaser

Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky by Benjamin West
VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

Knowledge of tornadoes wasn’t very common back in 1750. There were “waterspouts” that often happened in the Mediterranean Sea and when one came ashore, the Italian people thought the apocalypse was coming. Upon reading about it, Franklin did his own research and surmised that the waterspout was caused by ascending columns of air, rather than water.

Four years later while visiting a friend in Maryland, Franklin was so lucky to witness a waterspout firsthand, except this one was on land. In order to understand it better, he followed it into a forest as it sucked up everything in his path, finding his theory to be correct.

He Is Also In The U.S. Chess Hall Of Fame

Benjamin Franklin Painting
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Among many of his talents, Ben Franklin was a formidable chess player. Historians know that he had been playing as early as 1733 and was particularly active in chess circles as an ambassador to France in the 1770’s and 1780’s.

In 1779, he wrote a treatise titled “The Morals of Chess,” praising the game’s virtues and how it so closely mirrored real life. In it, he wrote that chess “strengthened… several very valuable qualities of the mind.” As one of the world’s most famous chess players, Franklin was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 1999.

He Invented The Glass Armonica

Famous glass armonica player William Zeitler tuning his armonica for Classical Mid-Autumn Music Romance at New Town Plaza, Sha Tin.  03 October 2006
Felix Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

During the mid-1700’s, Franklin attended a concert at which someone played “singing glasses.” This age-old trick involves filling wine glasses with various amount of liquids and running a wet finger over the rim to produce an ethereal sound.

Franklin was fascinated by the trick and went straight to work to produce a whole instrument that could make those sounds. The result was the glass armonica, which Franklin invented in 1761. Glass armonicas are made with specifically engineered glass bowls that are spun on a foot-powered rod and played kind of like a piano. The instrument was so outstanding that even Beethoven and Mozart wrote music for it.

He Was Near Death When He Became An Abolitionist

Benjamin Franklin
Culture Club/Getty Images

One thing that’s somewhat overlooked about the founding fathers was the fact that they more than likely owned slaves. Benjamin Franklin was no exception. In fact, Franklin owned two slaves in his life named George and King. As he grew old, however, Franklin decided to free them once he realized that slavery didn’t run with the principles of the American Revolution.

He became a staunch abolitionist in his old age and was the president of a Pennsylvania abolitionist society in 1787. The year before his death in 1790 he wrote, “Slavery is such an atrocious debasement of human nature, that its very extirpation, if not performed with solicitous care, may sometimes open a source of serious evils.”