Justly credited as being one of the most American Americans to ever walk on this planet, Benjamin Franklin had an eye for invention, creativity, irreverence of the status quo and love of challenging the unknown. He would have been fascinated by the wireless industry and, no doubt, given time, would come up with an application we never thought of. The guy invented the lightning rod, for goodness sakes, and, to this day, his invention protects your towers. Think of the sheer audacity of the man. To feel like you could take on Zeus himself and bring his thunderbolts under control is not only the height of hubris but the essence of a truly American mind at work. We can change anything, is the American mantra, from royal rule to fuzzy vision.
He is at rest here in my beloved Philadelphia at the corner of 5th and Arch. His marble slab is almost touching distance through the iron fence. Almost. So instead, people pitch pennies on the slab to commemorate his “Penny saved is a penny got” quote (he never said “earned.”) No doubt, he would rather everyone keep their pennies.
He epitomized what many think we have lost. He was a cunning and voracious businessman, and successful to boot, but he also was a giver back of his gifts and talents and insights for the betterment of his community. He never patented a single invention which, no doubt, cost him a fortune. Franklin saw them, rather, as his gifts to further the public well being.
“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.
Which one of these wasn’t worth well over 10,000 “Franklins” in today’s money?
- the urinary catheter
- swim fins (he is acknowledged by the Swimming Hall of Fame)
- the odometer
- the reaching device (the Long Arm)
- the Franklin Stove
- bifocal eyeglasses
- the public library
- the fire department
- ..and of course, the lightning rod
Side note about the catheter: Franklin’s older brother John suffered from kidney stones. Back then, for treatment, one stuck a bulky metal catheter into, um, one’s urinary tract. Feeling his brother’s pain, Franklin went to his local Philly silversmith (no, not Paul Revere, he’s Boston) with designs for a flexible catheter.
“It is as flexible as would be expected in a thing of the kind, and I imagine will readily comply with the turns of the passage,” he wrote in a letter to his still suffering but no doubt grateful brother.
Side note about the odometer: although the idea of the odometer goes back to ancient times, Franklin invented his own version. The idea was to attach the counter atop the wheel of a carriage, measure the circumference of the wheel and how many revolutions it took to travel a mile and have the device register the distance traveled.
So let’s fast forward. Wireless today is a product coming from many inventors and is still being invented as we speak. What would Franklin do? He’d make a buck off of it for sure. But he would figure out a way to not only make the product better, but make the world better without expecting a return on his gift.
Go Fourth and prosper…and give a little back. It’s the American Way.
By Jim Fryer, Inside Towers Managing Editor