It’s fairly common knowledge that Ben Franklin, a member of the Committee of Five responsible for the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, was one of America’s first great entrepreneurs. From an extremely humble background (the youngest son of 17 children of a candle-maker), his businesses and inventions made him the first worldwide celebrity born in the American colonies. He was wealthy enough to retire at age 42 and to devote the rest of his life to scientific and public service  endeavors.

Here are some of Franklin’s inventions and discoveries

  • Bifocals
  • Lightning Rod
  • Franklin Stove
  • Mapping of the Gulf Stream
  • Properties of Electricity
  • Swim Fins
  • Library Chair
  • Street LIghting
  • Glass Armonica (musical instrument)
  • Flexible Urinary Catheter
  • Odometer
  • Long Arm (to reach high book shelves)

There’s so much to learn from history | Be sure to check out our growing Guide to Small Business in History

However, Franklin chose never to patent any of his inventions or register any copyright

In his autobiography he wrote:

“As we enjoy great 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.”

In his book, Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership, author Lewis Hyde explains that Franklin believed that any claim to own his ideas and inventions could only lead to the kind of disputes that “sour one’s Temper and disturb one’s Quiet.” It was for that reason, Franklin never took a patent or registered a copyright. (Ironically, others received patents for his inventions in other countries. And some have pointed out the ironic inclusion of a copyright message at the bottom of this Boston Globe website page.


Also on | Thomas Jefferson’s Views on Patents and Intellectual Property Rights

(Image via Wikipedia Commons)

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