• Weird History

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.

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Photo: Benjamin West/Philadelphia Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Was America's First Storm Chaser

    In 1750, Franklin read about a waterspout in the Mediterranean Sea that had come ashore and caused a panic in Italy. Through his research, he discovered that similar weather patterns happened on land, which he called whirlwinds or landspouts (someone else later coined the term "tornado"). He theorized that waterspouts were ascending columns of air, while everyone else thought they were filled with water.

    In 1754, while visiting a friend in Maryland, he saw such a whirlwind in person. His companions quickly left the area, but Franklin chased after it on his horse and followed it into the woods where it sucked up leaves, branches, and other debris. He later described the tornado: “The progressive motion of the whirl was not so swift, but that a man on foot might have kept pace with it, but the circular motion was amazingly rapid.”

  • Photo: Mason Chamberlin/Philadelphia Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Was A Vegetarian For Part Of His Life

    When he was 16, Franklin came upon a book that influenced his decision to give up eating meat: The Way to Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Thomas Tryon. He said of the lifestyle:

    When about 16 years of age, I happen'd to meet with a book written by one Tryon, recommending a vegetable diet. I determined to go into it. My brother being yet unmarried, did not keep house, but boarded himself and his apprentices in another family. My refusing to eat flesh occasioned an inconveniency, and I was frequently chid for my singularity.