19 Bizarre Facts About Benjamin Franklin, A Genius, A Founding Father, And A Delightful Weirdo

Benjamin Franklin was one of America's founding fathers as well as a scientist, statesman, author, printer, activist, postmaster, and diplomat. He is renowned for his discoveries and theories on electricity and is credited with inventing swimming fins, bifocals, the lightning rod, a flexible catheter, and many other inventions we use today.

Franklin was born in 1706, and was a middle child. His parents, who were soap and candle makers, could not afford to send him to school longer than two years so, by the age of 10, young Benjamin began working alongside his father. By the age of 12, he had became his brother James's apprentice at a printing shop. Franklin did not let his lack of access to a formal education prevent him from becoming one of America's most influential and famous figures.

While his major scientific accomplishments are widely known to most Americans, there are still some other rather unusual facts about Franklin that many were never taught in school.

  • He Wrote An Essay About Farting
    Photo: David Martin/The White House Historical Association / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Wrote An Essay About Farting

    While living abroad as the United States Ambassador to France in 1781, Franklin penned the infamous essay "Fart Proudly," which is also known as "A Letter to a Royal Academy about farting" and "To the Royal Academy of Farting." Franklin sent the letter to Richard Price, a Welsh philosopher and Unitarian minister, and to his friends. In the essay, Franklin proposed that there should be a scientific study conducted on farts and that researchers should develop a drug to make the act of farting less offensive. He wrote, in part:

    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.

  • He Nearly Died From Cooking A Turkey With Electricity
    Photo: Joseph Duplessis / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Nearly Died From Cooking A Turkey With Electricity

    In 1748, Franklin wrote a letter to his friend Peter Collinson of Philadelphia in which he described a picnic he was planning on the banks of the Schuylkill River. He mentioned that the main course was going to be turkey and how he planned on preparing it: "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." But when he prepared the bird, a flash of light engulfed Franklin - he had electrocuted himself while trying to cook the turkey. He later told his brother in a letter that the biggest injury he sustained was to his ego.

    Also during the picnic, Franklin also planned on using electricity to ignite flammable liquids, drink a toast in electrically heated glasses, and set off explosions.

  • He Sat Naked In Front Of Open Windows To Take "Air Baths" And Prevent Sickness
    Photo: H.M. Dixon / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Sat Naked In Front Of Open Windows To Take "Air Baths" And Prevent Sickness

    Franklin thought that nudity was good for one's health, so he regularly took "air baths" to ward off illness. He also dispelled the theory that cold weather contributed to people catching the common cold, and instead believed that people got sick in winter because they were cooped up in close quarters that made it easier for germs to fester and multiply. To increase the air circulation in his home, he'd open up the windows and sit in front of them without any clothes on.

  • He Believed In Casual Sex

    Franklin had a rather robust sex life and may have fathered as many as 15 illegitimate children. In his essay “Advice on the Choice of a Mistress,” he advised that young men should choose older women as lovers because, among other things, they would be "grateful" for the attention. He also noted that one doesn't notice a woman's age in the dark.

    Franklin was married for 38 years, but he had many mistresses. Some of his female companions were just friends while others were sexual partners. He spoke of his frequent dalliances in his autobiography, writing: "the hard-to-be-governed passion of my youth had hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way." And his sexual appetites didn't wane with middle age - Franklin was often accompanied by younger women from age 50 and on.

  • The Bodies Of 10 People (Including 6 Children) Were Found In His Basement

    Franklin lived in a four-story Georgian house at 36 Craven Street in London from 1757 to 1775. While the house was being converted into a museum in 1998, a construction worker found something really strange in the basement - a human thigh bone sticking out of the dirt floor. The police were called to investigate and a thorough excavation revealed approximately 1,200 pieces of bone belonging to 10 people, six of them being children. All the bones were more than 200 years old, and most had been sawed or drilled into.

    No, don't worry, Franklin wasn't a serial killer. While he lived in London, he was friends with a man named William Hewson, a former student of the anatomist William Hunter. Scholars believe Hewson used Franklin's basement as his own personal anatomy lab. It's unclear, however, whether Franklin had knowledge of Hewson's activities.

  • He Never Patented Any Of His Inventions
    Photo: Jean-Antoine Houdon / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Never Patented Any Of His Inventions

    Benjamin Franklin could have made a lot of money from his inventions, but he decided not to patent any of them as he believed that his ideas should be used freely by the public. In his mind, they were intended to make everyday life simpler, so everyone deserved to have access to his inventions. He explained in his autobiography:

    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.