5 Things You Didn’t Know About Ben Franklin

  • Benjamin Franklin, 1873
Benjamin Franklin, 1873
Credit: GeorgiosArt/ iStock

Most of us are familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s scientific inventions, and his role as one of the United States’ foremost Founding Fathers. But his ingenuity extended far beyond his most defining accomplishments; Franklin, it seems, was a visionary without limits. For instance, did you know his rustic clothing inspired European copycats? Or that he was instrumental in understanding the Gulf Stream? These lesser-known facets of Franklin's legacy underscore the breadth of his intellect and the enduring impact of his innovations. Here are five fascinating ways Franklin’s forward-thinking approach made him one of the most fascinating figures in American history.

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He Was a Cultural Icon in France

In late 1776, early in the Revolutionary War, Franklin sailed from Philadelphia to France on a diplomatic mission. Although he was ultimately there to secure French support for American independence, he also became somewhat of a style icon. Unlike many of his contemporaries who favored the popular powdered wig of the time, Franklin wore his natural hair unstyled. His clothing was similarly unfussy: Plain suits, a walking stick, and fur hats were his signature sartorial items. 

This deliberately simple and very Americana choice of attire, coupled with Franklin's global reputation, endeared him to the French, and even influenced French fashion. Some women began wearing wigs made to look like his fur cap, a style known as the "coiffure a la Franklin," and his image appeared in portraits and on medallions and other jewelry. In 1779, Franklin wrote to his daughter about just how popular he had become. “The numbers sold are incredible,” he wrote. “The pictures, busts, and prints, (of which copies upon copies are spread every where) have made your father’s face as well known as that of the moon.”

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