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!
He Became A French Style Icon
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.
Human Bones Were Found Buried In His Basement
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
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
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.
He Enjoyed Air Baths
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 Never Patented His Inventions
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
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
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.
He Was Briefly Vegetarian
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 Left Money In His Will For The Future
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"
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
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.
He Helped Found The First Volunteer Fire Department
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 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
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.
He Became The First U.S. Postmaster General
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
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
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
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
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."
He Dropped Out Of College To Fight In The American Revolution
In 1772, Alexander Hamilton traveled from his childhood home in what is now the Caribbean to Boston. There, he hoped to be enrolled in one of the few establishments where a young man could get an education. His number one choice was Princeton, however, he was rejected after requesting an accelerated course of study.
By 1773, he was enrolled in King's College, now Columbia University, where he proved to excel as a student. However, after the first military engagement between the American troops and the British at Lexington and Concord, he and some fellow students dropped out and joined a New York Volunteer militia later known as the Hearts of Oak.
He Supported Himself As A Young Man
Hamilton was born in Charleston, Nevis in the Leeward Islands in what was part of the British West Indies. His father, James Hamilton, abandoned the family, and his mother moved Hamilton and his brother to St. Croix. Soon after, she contracted yellow fever and died in 1768, leaving Hamilton orphaned.
As a teenager, Hamilton then became a clerk at the import-export firm Beekman and Cruger which traded with New York and New England. He proved to do extremely well in his position, even being left in charge of the company for a period of time while the owner was off at sea. It was also during this time that he became mostly self-educated.
He Founded A Major Bank Before He Was 30
Throughout his life, Alexander Hamilton proved to be a genius in most financial matters, eventually earning his image on the ten dollar bill. Yet, one of his greatest financial accomplishments was establishing the Bank of New York in 1784 along with Aaron Burr.
He managed to do this before he was even 30 years old, and the bank went on to become not only one of the oldest banks in the United States but in the world. Eventually becoming the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation, it finally shut its doors in 2007.
One Of America's First Publicized Relationship Scandals
Although Hamilton appeared to be happily married to Elizabeth Schuyler, a daughter from a powerful New York Family, in 1791 he went against his marriage and had an affair with 23-year-old Maria Reynolds. She was married as well and her husband blackmailed Hamilton to keep quiet about the affair.
Eventually, tired of paying Maria's husband and sneaking around, Hamilton publicly admitted his faults. Although the affair put a strain on his marriage with Elizabeth, the two managed to work it out. On the other hand, Maria Reynolds divorced her husband and ironically had Aaron Burr as a lawyer, the man who would later kill Hamilton.
He Was Active In America's First Murder Trial
In 1800, a young carpenter from New York named Levi Weeks was accused of murdering a woman he was involved with named Gulielma "Elma" Sands. Her body was found in a well in Manhattan, giving the trial the name of the Manhattan Well Murder. This was the first murder trial in the United States where there is a recorded transcript.
Luckily, Week's brother was Ezra Weeks, one of New York’s most successful builders. His brother’s position allowed him to hire Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and Henry Livingston, three of the most respected attorneys in New York. The three were able to have Weeks acquitted within 5 minutes of jury deliberation.
Growing Up In The Carribean Might Have Influenced His Beliefs About Slavery
Alexander Hamilton grew up in the Caribbean, which at the time was the center of British slavery. There, he was most likely exposed to the cruelty and horrors that the native people faced as they were torn from their families and shipped off. This is believed to have had an impact on Hamilton. In 1785, Hamilton became involved with the New York Manumission Society, an organization whose goal was to slowly end slavery.
He's also been described by some biographists as a "fervent abolitionist." However, like numerous other Founding Fathers, his supposed distaste for slavery remains uncertain as his wife’s family owned slaves in New York.
He Helped Establish The Two-Party System
While Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton were both key players in the establishment of the United States and the government as we know it today, they weren't necessarily best friends. The two actually disagreed on a lot of matters which eventually led to a schism between the two.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison favored strong state governments and formed the Jeffersonian Republican Party in opposition to Hamilton who wanted a strong national government. Before long, Hamilton’s allies began to call themselves Federalists. This was the beginning of the two-party system in the United States.
He Was The Only Founding Father Not Born In The American Colonies
Being born in Nevis, an island in the British West Indies, Hamilton was the only Founding Father to not be born in the Thirteen Colonies. He was also born out of wedlock. Like many other young British men, his father, James Hamilton, moved to the British West Indies in hopes of making his fortune in the booming trade industry in the region.
It was there that he met Hamilton's mother, Rachel Faucette, who was divorced from her first husband. The two lived together and had two sons although they never married.
The Oldest United States Military Unit
During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton was the leader of what is now considered the oldest serving unit in the United States Army. According to the Army Historical Foundation, "Battery D, 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Infantry Division (Mechanized), the oldest US unit, can be traced back to Hamilton's artillery company."
Under his leadership, the company was involved in numerous key battles such as White Plains and Princeton in which their actions helped result in a victory. Impressed by Hamilton’s military prowess, George Washington made him an aide-de-camp with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
He Was Killed In A Duel
Although Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had been around each other for the majority of their political careers, the two grew to resent each other in the years leading up to 1804. Tensions rose after Hamilton supposedly slandered Burr who was running for New York governor, possibly causing him to lose.
The duel was fought at Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11, 1804, during a time that dueling was being outlawed. The two used pistols which resulted in Hamilton being shot fatally in the stomach with his bullet landing on a branch above Burr's head. Burr was charged with murder in New York and New Jersey, yet neither charge made it to trial.
He Authored The Majority Of The Federalist Papers
Published between 1787 and 1788, the 85 Federalist Papers were a series of essays that attempted to convince New York's electorate to ratify the United States Constitution. These documents were written by Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay who wrote them under the pseudonym Publius.
Because they didn’t use their real names, it’s not certain how many essays each of the men wrote. Yet, it is assumed that Hamilton wrote 51, Madison with 29, and Jay with five. The publication of the Federalist Papers is considered to be one of Hamilton’s greatest political accomplishments.
He Founded The New York Post
Hamilton started the paper that's now known as The New York Post in 1801 after accumulating $10,000 from investors, many of whom were other New York members of the Federalist Party. At the time, it was called The New York Evening Post, which Hamilton utilized as a way to speak out against the Jeffersonian Republican Party shortly after Jefferson had been elected president.
Hamilton was heavily involved with the publication in its early years, writing many of the editorials himself. Still in circulation today, the paper boasts itself to be the oldest continuously published daily newspaper in the United States.
George Washington's Last Letter Was Addressed To Hamilton
Two days before George Washington's death, he sent a correspondent to his old friend and former cabinet member, Alexander Hamilton. For some time, Hamilton had been set on establishing "a regular Military Academy" for the benefit of the army and protection of the nation.
Washington also thought that it was a wise proposition and reached out to Hamilton. In the last letter that George Washington ever wrote, he proclaimed that a Military Academy would be “of primary importance to this country.”
He Was The First Secretary Of Treasurey
On September 11, 1789, George Washington appointed Alexander Hamilton as the first-ever Secretary of Treasury. During that time, much of the United States government was established as we know it today such as the structure of the Cabinet. During Hamilton's time in the position, not only was he responsible for his own duties, but Washington frequently relied on him for advice outside of financial matters.
Hamilton also helped to found the first national bank, the U.S. Mint, and the Revenue Cutter Service which would later grow to become the U.S. Coast Guard. Hamilton eventually left the position in January 1795.
His Policies Started A Tax Rebellion
As Secretary of Treasury, Hamilton knew that some taxes needed to be implemented in order to create revenue. Made clear by the Revolutionary War, Americans didn't like paying taxes. However, it needed to be done and one of his first tax targets was on whiskey made either domestically or imported. He figured this would be the better option than taxing people’s land.
Of course, this still didn’t go over well, and what is known as the Whiskey Rebellion began which lasted from 1791 to 1794. The rebellion was eventually crushed by government troops led by George Washington. This sent the message that the government had the ability to put down any uprisings.
His Age Is Up For Debate
It’s known that Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11. However, the actual year of his birth is still frequently debated, with Hamilton claiming he was born in 1757 with documents saying 1755. Yet, many academics agree that it is likely that Hamilton changed the year of his birth on purpose. It is assumed that Hamilton was 13-years-old when his mother passed away, orphaning him.
Being the clever young man he was, he might have added two years to his age to be more desirable for an apprenticeship. If this was the case, it worked, as he started work at the import-export firm Beekman and Cruger.
Hamilton's Eldest Son Died In A Duel In The Same Place He Did
Three years before Hamilton and Burr's historical showdown, resulting in Hamilton’s death, his eldest son Philip Hamilton suffered the same fate at the same location. In 1801, 19-year-old Philip confronted New York Lawyer George Eacker after he had given a defaming speech about his father.
After Eacker refused to retract the statements he had made about his father, the two agreed to a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey, the same grounds where Hamilton would later duel Burr. Philip was shot during the duel and died the next day while Eacker walked away unharmed. It is said that Alexander Hamilton was never the same after losing Philip.
He Was Known To Collaborate With Aaron Burr
After the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr quickly rose to become the two most prominent lawyers in the region. People would flock to the two lawyers for their legal needs which usually ended with Burr and Hamilton pinned against each other. However, on occasion, the two worked together on a case.
The most notorious of these cases was when they both defended Levi Weeks in what is now considered to be the first American murder trial. Of course, Burr would later kill Hamilton in a duel four years later.
His Self-Taught Writing Abilities Helped Get Him To The Colonies
While still living in the Caribbean, on August 1772, Alexander Hamilton wrote a letter to his father about a violent hurricane that had struck Saint Croix. People described the letter as being nothing short of poetic and were amazed by Hamilton's skills as a writer at such a young age.
Not long after, the letter was printed in the Royal Danish American Gazette newspaper. The locals in the area were so impressed with his work that they created a money collection to help send Hamilton to college in the Thirteen Colonies.
He Helped Thomas Jefferson Win The Presidency
In the nail-biting 1800 presidential election, the House of Representatives was controlled by the Federalists who had two candidates to choose from: Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. During that time, it was no secret that Hamilton and Jefferson were political enemies being on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Yet, Hamilton pleaded that Jefferson be chosen as the next president over Burr. In support of Jefferson, he wrote, "Mr. Burr loves nothing but himself—Thinks of nothing but his own aggrandizement—and will be content with nothing short of permanent power in his own hands […] “In a choice of Evils, let them take the least—Jefferson is in my view less dangerous than Burr."