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Introduction to Top 10 Ben Franklin Inventions

Benjamin Franklin's influence on modern life is enormous.

Getty Images/Photodisc/VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm

Most people in colonial Pennsylvania were content to do their reading in a simple wooden chair. Ben Franklin, on the other hand, insisted on kicking back in a reading chair fitted with a foot-powered fan. If he needed to grab another book from a high shelf, he simply flipped up the seat of his specially engineered library chair, transforming it into a small step ladder. To check the time, he glanced at a bizarre one-handed clock of his own design that only used three gears to keep time. Franklin was clearly a man who never stopped inventing.

Between running a print shop, engineering the U.S. postal system, starting America's first lending library, and helping sow the seeds of the American Revolution, Franklin also found time to draw up a vast collection of new devices. What's more, he never patented a single one. Although the decision likely cost him a fortune, Franklin saw his inventions as gifts to the public. "That, 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," he wrote in his autobiography. Pretty good for a bored-looking guy on the $100 bill.

Franklin's inventions are all models of practicality. It's one thing for a team of engineers to design the Segway, but quite another for an elderly, 18th century man to think of throwing a set of stairs on a library chair. Most of the items in this list likely had fellow colonists slapping their foreheads and exclaiming, "Why didn't I think of that?"

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