[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 29 October 2005, 00:03 GMT 01:03 UK
Franklin's legacy to medicine
Image of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was fascinated by medicine
Benjamin Franklin may be known for his role as a US statesman, but he was also a budding physician.

To celebrate the 300th-year anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's birth, the Royal Society of Medicine in London will be showcasing a new exhibition exploring the medical world of the 18th Century and Franklin's contributions.

Mr Franklin's natural curiosity about things and the way they work, including the human body, made him try to find ways to make them work better.

Image of Franklin's letter
Franklin looked for ways to treat his own ailments
When his older brother, John, was suffering from bladder stones and finding it difficult to urinate, Benjamin wanted to help.

He sketched a design for a flexible tube, similar to the urinary catheters that are used by patients today, and gave it to a local silversmith to make.

He then sent the prototype, which was very similar to the catheters used today, to his brother in Boston to try.

He later developed bladder stones himself, and said he could feel the weight of the stone moving inside his body when he rolled over in bed or shifted position.

The first odometer - a device for measuring distance - to help measure his postal routes when he worked as a postmaster
A lightning rod to protect people, especially on ships
Swim fins and a type of stove

Although it was too big for surgeons to remove, Benjamin found his own way of coping by avoiding certain foods and his favourite alcoholic beverages.

In 1784, when Benjamin was 78, his own failing eyesight prompted him to set about inventing another device commonly used today.

He had two pairs of spectacles, which he took and cut in half. He put half of each lens in a single frame to fashion what we now call bifocals.

At 80, Benjamin had retired from business and public service and wanted to spend his time reading and studying.

He found that in his old age it was difficult for him to reach books from high shelves.

His answer was to invent a gadget called a long arm - a wooden pole with a grasping claw at the end.


He was also one of the first to observe that prolonged exposure to lead would cause sickness.

While working as a printer he noticed that some of his colleagues had a condition that they called "The Dangles" - wrist drop caused by lead poisoning associated with this occupation.

Image of lead poisoning wrist drop
"The Dangles" was an occupational hazard for printers
He also surmised that the common cold was passed from person to person through indoor air and was a big advocate of the small pox vaccine after losing his son Francis to the disease.

Visitors to the exhibition, which the RMS is presenting jointly with The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, can explore Franklin's concerns about diet, exercise, and moderation, his promotion of fresh air and ventilation and his exploration of electrical medical treatments.

The exhibits, which includes his bifocal spectacles and the flexible urinary catheter, will be on display from 31st October 2005 until 27th January 2006. Entrance is free.

Founding father's Scottish links
29 Oct 02 |  Scotland

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific