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The Remarkable Genius of Benjamin Franklin

Caroline Winterer / Stanford University

Benjamin Franklin was truly a genius, recognized as such at home and abroad, in his own time and still today. He dabbled in many things, but also mastered them—philosophy, electricity, diplomacy—and shaped his world and ours. He coined electrical terms like “battery,” “positive,” “negative,” “charge”—he wrote about demography, economics (Adam Smith was among his friends), made the post office operate efficiently (inventing an odometer to measure how far the mail wagon traveled), and he invented a musical instrument for which both Mozart and Beethoven composed. He built things—bifocal glasses, an arm extender to reach books on high shelves, an electrical apparatus to cook a turkey, swimming fins (he is in the Swimming Hall of Fame), more efficient street lights, and when his brother suffered from kidney stones, Franklin made him a catheter.

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