Did You Know? . . . Dr. Franklin’s Medical Contributions

Published on in Parents PACK

In addition to raising funds for and opening the nation’s first hospital, Dr. Franklin’s zeal and activism for public health and safety led to many other groundbreaking discoveries and inventions:

Bifocals (“double spectacles”)

Quite famous among his contributions to public health were Dr. Franklin’s “double spectacles,” later known as bifocals. He halved the lens from his reading and regular glasses and placed them in the same frame. Franklin is thought to have worn bifocals for up to 50 years before they were commonly used.

Flexible catheter

Dr. Franklin invented a flexible catheter for his brother, John, who suffered from bladder stones and urine retention. Made from silver wire and coiled to create flexibility, this replaced hard, unbending tubes that were uncomfortable and often painful.

Lead poisoning

Franklin’s work in the printing business caused him to experience the effects of continued exposure to lead. Observing similar symptoms in others commonly exposed to lead in the course of their work, Franklin was one of the first to hypothesize a link between health problems and lead exposure.

Common cold

In Dr. Franklin’s time, many attributed the cause of the common cold to factors such as dampness in the air or clothes and changes in temperature. But Franklin observed that sailors, who were constantly exposed to damp air while wearing wet clothing, were relatively healthy, leading him to conclude that colds passed from person to person through the air. Given the then limited understanding of viruses and bacteria, his suggestion was well ahead of scientific understanding at the time.

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