11 Amazing Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Benjamin Franklin

Before he was a Founding Father, the multifaceted, ever-experimental Benjamin Franklin was a great many other things—from street performer to political cartoonist, and even a middle-aged widow. Here are a few highlights of Franklin’s early days.

1. He Was a Great Swimmer

Young Ben was such an aquatic ace that his feats eventually earned him a posthumous induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968. One of his most famous adventures came on a visit to England during which a 19-year-old Franklin swam from Chelsea to Blackfriars (3½ miles) in the Thames and performed a number of aquatic acrobatics to the delight of his compatriots. In addition to his achievements within the water, Franklin was honored for his childhood invention of flippers—worn on the hands, not feet—and his hobby of teaching friends to swim. In fact, he was so proficient that he was invited to open a swimming school in England, an offer he turned down.

2. He Created a Pseudonym to Fool His Brother

At just 16 years old, Ben adopted not just a pseudonym, but an entire pseudo-identity to get his words in print. Confident that his older brother James would never publish his work, Ben wrote a series of letters to James’ paper, The New-England Courant—where Ben was an apprentice—as Silence Dogood, a middle-aged widow with sharp, satirical wit. Between April and October of 1722, Ben penned 14 letters as Silence and although they were well received, James was not amused when the dame’s true identity came to light.

3. He Kept Masquerading as a Woman

This was the first but not the last time Franklin would adopt a feminine alter ego in writing. During the course of his life, Franklin’s work would appear in newspapers under bylines such as Polly Baker, Alice Addertongue, Caelia Shortface, Martha Careful, and the not-very-creatively-named Busy Body.

4. He Rallied Other Scholars

At 21 years old, Franklin established a weekly discussion group among twelve like-minded men known as Junto. They met each Friday and, according to Franklin’s biography, “every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing on any subject he pleased.” If that sounds like a lot of homework, consider this: Franklin also detailed a list of 24 questions each man should ask himself the day of the meeting.

5. He Was a Librarian

As Junto grew, the group found that it lacked the required resources, namely books, necessary to settle disputes. So in 1731, Franklin convinced his fellow members to pool their resources to purchase a collection of books. A total of 50 founding shareholders originally signed on, and on July 1, the group drafted their Articles of Agreement, thereby founding The Library Company of Philadelphia, which remained the largest public library in the country up until the 1850s.

6. He Created an Iconic Call to Unity

Ben Franklin is responsible for the “Join or Die” drawing, which depicts a snake whose severed parts represent the colonies. He drew it after attending the Albany Congress of 1754 as a chief delegate. It first appeared in Franklin’s paper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, on May 9, 1754, and is widely recognized as the first American political cartoon.

7. He Wasn’t That Much of a Turkey Fan

Ben Franklin never said he wanted a turkey, and not the bald eagle, on our national seal. First of all, although he served on an earlier committee that discussed the Great Seal, Franklin ultimately wasn’t on the one that finally settled on the bald eagle. The oft-cited letter in which he calls the eagle a “Bird of bad moral Character” and lauds the turkey as “a much more respectable Bird” wasn’t talking about the country as a whole. Rather, he is writing to his daughter to complain about the Society of the Cincinnati, a military fraternity formed by Revolutionary War officers, whose symbol was also the eagle, one that happened to strongly resemble a turkey.

8. But He Could Find Uses for Turkeys

Although he’s mistakenly remembered as a proponent of turkeys, Franklin once tried to electrocute one of the birds. After bragging to a fellow scientist that his experiments with electricity could be put to use by killing and roasting a turkey via electrical shock, Franklin proposed to do just that for an audience. After several rounds of experiments, Franklin seemed to get the hang of it, but when the time came in 1750 for a demonstration, he ended up shocking himself, leaving him temporarily numb and less temporarily humiliated.

9. He Was a Clever Marketer

A very young Franklin, early in his apprenticeship days, assisted his brother’s newspaper business by composing mini-ballads highlighting the biggest news stories of the day and performing them on street corners. His father quickly discouraged this behavior, claiming that “Verse-makers were always beggars.”

10. He Could Really Talk About Drinking

On January 6, 1737, Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette published 200+ synonyms for the word “drunk” in what was entitled “The Drinkers Dictionary.” The handy list came accompanied by a note from Franklin himself: “The Phrases in this Dictionary are not (like most of our Terms of Art) borrow'd from Foreign Languages, neither are they collected from the Writings of the Learned in our own, but gather'd wholly from the modern Tavern-Conversation of Tiplers. I do not doubt but that there are many more in use; and I was even tempted to add a new one my self under the Letter B, to wit, Brutify'd…”

11. He Had at Least One Surprising Roommate

Franklin knew that you didn’t catch a cold from cold temperatures. This came up one night in 1776 when he and John Adams were forced to share not just a room but a bed. Along with Edward Rutledge, they were on their way to Staten Island to negotiate with Admiral Richard Howe of the Royal Navy for a possible end to the Revolutionary War. The inn they stopped at didn’t have enough rooms for all three men, so Adams and Franklin agreed to shack up but disagreed over what to do with their room’s window. Adams was worried the open window would cause him to become ill but Franklin argued, correctly but contrary to the wisdom of the time, that cool air would not cause either of them to catch a cold.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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5 Ingenious Tricks for Saving Burnt Cookies

"Please bake our brethren on the middle rack next time."
"Please bake our brethren on the middle rack next time."
cnicbc/iStock via Getty Images

It doesn’t take long for cookies to go from an irresistible golden brown to a dispiriting black (especially if you're baking at a high altitude). But before you toss them in the trash and start rummaging around in your pantry for a store-bought snack, we have a few suggestions for saving that imperfect batch.

1. Grate off the burnt bits of cookie with a zester or cheese grater.

As PureWow explains, all you have to do is slide the cookie along your cheese grater to get rid of the burnt layer on the bottom. The smaller the holes, the better, so a lemon zester works well for this, too.

2. Scrape the burned part of the cookie off with a knife.

If you don’t have a cheese grater, you can get the same results with a regular knife—it just might take you an extra minute or two. Instead of slicing off the entire bottom of the cookie, hold your knife blade perpendicular to the bottom of the cookie and carefully scrape away the burnt crumbs.

3. Store the burned cookies in a jar with a piece of bread.

Even after you’ve shaved off the blackened evidence of your culinary blunder, your cookies might still be crispier than you’d prefer. Store them in an airtight container with a slice of bread—they’ll soak up the moisture and soften right up.

4. Make ice cream sandwiches with your burned cookies.

Snobby snackers won’t scoff at your grated cookies if they can’t even see the bottoms. Slather one with a nice, thick layer of ice cream, slap another one on top, and roll the edges in your favorite topping for a treat that’s better than any cookie—burnt or not.

5. Transform your burned cookies into a cookie crust.

For charred, crunchy cookies that seem beyond salvation, you can completely cut off the burnt bottoms, crush the remains, and turn them into a cookie crust for a pie or cheesecake. Here’s a simple recipe from the Pioneer Woman that calls for three ingredients: cookie crumbs, butter, and sugar.