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.
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.
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.
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."
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.