It might not be the most popular of his inventions but this invention meant relief to a lot of people in America who had bladder problems. Then, as now, a catheter was a thin tube inserted into a patient’s urethra in order to drain urine from the bladder. But at the time, catheters were nothing more than rigid (and painful) metal tubes. Franklin’s older brother suffered from kidney stones and needed to undergo an excruciating daily ritual of jamming a bulky metal catheter into his nether regions.
Franklin knew he had to take charge of things so he ran to his local silversmith with plans for a flexible catheter. “It is as flexible as would be expected in a thing of the kind, and I imagine will readily comply with the turns of the passage,” he wrote to his brother.
Benjamin Franklin was an avid swimmer from a very young age. When he was posted to London in the 1750s, he was known to take daily dips in the Thames. When he was an 11-year-old in Boston, Franklin’s first invention was a pair of oval planks with holes through their centers. Grasping the two planks with his hands, Franklin used the “fins” to give him a bit of extra thrust underwater.
Throughout his life he consistently promoted its healthful benefits. At the ripe old age of 11 he invented a pair of swim fins. However, unlike today’s foot flippers, these were attached to one’s hands. His advocacy for swimming was recognized by his induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968.
The credit for this invention goes to the involvement of Franklin in the mail service, which was a haphazard affair in colonial America. In the 1760s, the British government tapped Franklin to make some sense of the colonies’ slapdash postal system. A man of letters himself, Franklin dove into the task with a firm resolve to speed up communication between the colonies.
He started by touring America’s major postal centers, studying ways to standardize streamline mail delivery. Along the way, Franklin charted the distances between postal stations by attaching a geared device to the rear wheel of his horse carriage. Every 400 revolutions made by his carriage wheel would cause the device to click ahead one mile (i.e. 1.6 kilometers). By the end of Franklin’s tour, he had gathered a stunningly accurate survey of early colonial roads. Yet another invention that sparked the age of the modern tachometers of today.
The use of street lighting was first recorded in the ancient city of Antioch in the 4th century. However, in the modern world of America it was introduced by Benjamin Franklin. The street lamps in Franklin’s day were not efficient and the glass globes tended to become dark with soot from the oil burned inside, requiring almost daily cleaning. Franklin determined that the problem had to do with a lack of airflow within the globe of the lamp.
He therefore suggested composing them of four flat panels, with a long funnel above to draw up the smoke, and crevices admitting air flow below, to facilitate the ascent of the smoke; by this means they were kept clean, did not grow dark in a few hours, as London lamps do, but continued bright till morning.