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What Was The Secret Behind Benjamin Franklin’s Walking Stick?

Benjamin Franklin was known for many things in his life. He was an author, a postmaster, an ambassador, and one of the United States’ Founding Fathers. But he was more of a curious inventor, creating a variety of nifty gadgets. Did you know he can also calm puddles with a touch of his cane?

When Benjamin Franklin lived in London in 1762, he carried a bamboo cane that secretly contained about a pint of oil. He used the oil whenever he was near a body of water, tricking his friends to think he could calm the waters.

Benjamin Franklin’s Walking Stick

Benjamin Franklin was sent to London as an ambassador for the Pennsylvania Assembly. While traveling on a ship that was part of a fleet of 96 sailing vessels, Benjamin took notice of the wakes created by two boats. He noticed that the wakes were incredibly smooth as if it wasn’t affected by the wind.

Franklin grew curious as to why this was the case and quickly tried to find answers. He spoke to the captain, and the captain thought Franklin’s question was stupid since the sailors commonly saw the phenomenon. The captain explained that the ships’ cooks probably emptied their greasy water right when the wakes were smooth.

Franklin’s curiosity kicked in as he did not fully accept the captain’s answer. In his free time, he conducted his experiments during his stay in London. In the summer of 1772, Franklin and John Pringle visited William Brownrigg. The three visited a local lake Derwent Water, and soon enough, Franklin tricked the two that he could quiet waters.

Franklin devised a bamboo cane that can keep about a pint of oil in its hollow upper joint. With one push of the head, the cane would release oil from the bottom and into the water’s surface. It immediately quieted the waves of the water, making it look smooth as a looking glass. (Source: Physics Today)

Franklin’s Other Inventions

Though Franklin’s walking stick was a novelty invention, he developed other nifty gadgets with practical applications. Here are some of the inventions credited to Franklin. (Source: Franklin Institute)

Lightning Rod

This was perhaps the most famous invention Franklin was credited for and was the product of his accidental shock in his kite experiment in 1746. He noticed that a sharp iron needle dissipated electricity from a charged metal sphere and concluded it might help protect buildings and people in the buildings from lightning strikes.

Franklin was able to validate his conclusion, and soon the pointed lightning rods were on top of buildings throughout the colonies. (Source: Franklin Institute)


Franklin grew both near-sighted and far-sighted, a normal condition for aging individuals. He soon had two pairs of glasses, one for reading and one for distance. Franklin quickly grew tired of switching from one pair to the other and led him to create the double spectacles, which we know today as bifocals.

He had the lenses of both of his spectacles sliced horizontally in half and combined the lens for reading and the lens for distance into a single pair. The lens for reading was at the bottom, while the lens for distance was at the top. (Source: Franklin Institute)

Glass Harmonica

Franklin was also curious about music. Upon hearing his friend play a tune with several goblets containing various amounts of liquid and simply rubbing the lids with a wet finger, he thought he could do better.
He soon invented the glass harmonica, which was so popular that even the French queen Marie Antoinette was known to have used it. (Source: Fantastic Facts)

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