Benjamin Franklin, founding father of the United States served as the First Postmaster of the United States, United States Minister to France, United States Minister to Sweden, the Sixth President of Pennsylvania, First President of the Academy and College of Philadelphia, the organizer of the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire, Co-Founder of the Pennsylvania Hospital, and more.
We want to highlight some of Ben Franklin’s lesser known works and achievements.
“Did you know?
Concept of cooling
Franklin noted a principle of refrigeration by observing that on a very hot day, he stayed cooler in a wet shirt in a breeze than he did in a dry one. To understand this phenomenon more clearly Franklin conducted experiments. In 1758 on a warm day in Cambridge, England, Franklin and fellow scientist John Hadley experimented by continually wetting the ball of a mercury thermometer with ether and using bellows to evaporate the ether. With each subsequent evaporation, the thermometer read a lower temperature, eventually reaching 7 °F. Another thermometer showed that the room temperature was constant at 65 °F. In his letter Cooling by Evaporation, Franklin noted that, "One may see the possibility of freezing a man to death on a warm summer's day."
Ben Franklin also enjoyed playing the violin, harp, and the guitar, and also was an avid chess player.
In 1781, Ben Franklin wrote an essay to the Royal Academy about flatulence, it was titled “Fart Proudly: A Letter to a Royal Academy about farting”. The letter was written but never formally submitted but was sent as a letter to Richard Price, a Welsh philosopher and Unitarian minister in England with whom Franklin had an ongoing correspondence. The text reads in part:
“I have perused your late mathematical Prize Question, proposed in lieu of one in Natural Philosophy, for the ensuing year...Permit me then humbly to propose one of that sort for your consideration, and through you, if you approve it, for the serious Enquiry of learned Physicians, Chemists, &c. of this enlightened Age. It is universally well known, that in digesting our common food, there is created or produced in the bowels of human creatures, a great quantity of wind. That the permitting this air to escape and mix with the atmosphere, is usually offensive to the company, from the fetid smell that accompanies it. That all well-bred people therefore, to avoid giving such offence, forcibly restrain the efforts of nature to discharge that wind."
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On October 21, 1743, according to the popular myth, a storm moving from the southwest denied Franklin the opportunity of witnessing a lunar eclipse. Franklin was said to have noted that the prevailing winds were actually from the northeast, contrary to what he had expected. In correspondence with his brother, Franklin learned that the same storm had not reached Boston until after the eclipse, despite the fact that Boston is to the northeast of Philadelphia. He deduced that storms do not always travel in the direction of the prevailing wind, a concept that greatly influenced meteorology.
After the Icelandic volcanic eruption of Laki in 1783, and the subsequent harsh European winter of 1784, Franklin made observations connecting the causal nature of these two separate events. He wrote about them in a lecture series.”
So, moving forward from one of Ben’s, less serious works, let’s talk about his contribution to the fire service.
The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire is the oldest property insurance company in the United States and was organized by Franklin in 1752 and incorporated in 1768.
It was structured as a mutual insurance organization, providing fire insurance to a limited area in and around Philadelphia. It introduced several key principles that underpin modern insurance techniques, including inspecting properties to be insured, and setting rates based on a risk assessment. Buildings that were not constructed to specified standards were rejected for coverage, and rates could be raised for unsafe living practices, such as the storage of combustible materials in wooden buildings. The company also was the first to establish a financial reserve from which to pay claims.
Fire Mark Plaque of the
Oil on Water:
While traveling on a ship, Franklin had observed that the wake of a ship was diminished when the cooks scuttled their greasy water. He studied the effects on a large pond in Clapham Common, London. "I fetched out a cruet of oil and dropt a little of it on the water ... though not more than a teaspoon full, produced an instant calm over a space of several yards square." He later used the trick to "calm the waters" by carrying "a little oil in the hollow joint of my cane".