Was Ben Franklin a Hipster of His Day?

Was Ben Franklin a hipster of his day?

by Bryant

Back in the 1700s Ben Franklin was able to make quite the name for himself and, as we know from history, those people who are remembered were often the ones who stood out. Franklin definitely fell into this category. In fact, I saw a web comic that argued that Ben Franklin was the hipster of his day! At the risk of sounding like a Buzzfeed article, I have to agree with them. It seemed like everything Franklin was up to was done with the purpose of pushing the social boundaries of his time. Proof? Check out the list of things below! To your upper right is also a quick overview of Franklin in case you need a refresher.


Franklin was Fashion Forward

Fur Hats

Not only is there some great alliteration here, but it's also true. Believe it or not Franklin was setting fashion trends overseas back before and during the American Revolution. Ol' Ben had already made a name for himself internationally for all of his inventions and writings so his visits abroad were typically well received. On one particular visit to France Franklin was a little bit chilly so he was sporting a fur cap over that receding hairline of his. The French elites equated the fur cap to rugged American ideals, like being pioneers and revolutionaries. They were more or less swooning over Franklin as the representation of the American dream of the day. So Big Ben owned his look and had a number of fur hats sent over from America so that he was hardly ever caught without one!

Franklin fur hat.jpeg


One of the inventions Frankin is remembered for and that people still use today are glasses: The Bifocals. The lenses in these glasses are split horizontally. One half then corrects the wearer's nearsightedness while the other adjusts for farsightedness. Thus, the wearer can correct both issues with just a single pair of glasses rather than having to switch between two different pairs.

You might also like: The History of Glasses

Franklin Was A Proponent of Obscure Health Trends of the Time


Franklin may not have been eating kale or juicing back in the 1700s, but he was pursuing his own healthy habits... the first of which was swimming. While swimming may not seem like an oddity today, Franklin was an early proponent of the exercise as a way to remain healthy. Fraklin's first recorded invention even dealt with swimming. He created swim fins that looked like an artists paint palette—wooden panels with holes for his thumb. He would fix them to his hands so that he could swim faster underwater. Franklin was even eventually voted into the swimming hall of fame thanks to his love of swimming.

Air Bathing

Yep, air bathing.. and maybe this sounds a little bit more like Franklin was a "hippie" instead of a "hipster." Franklin believed in the benefits of hanging out naked in cold air. I can't imagine what his neighbors thought, but Franklin enjoyed stripping down to his birthday suit and just sitting in the cold. Not sure how this ties into the whole "apple a day" thing but it never seemed to have caught on.

Franklin Was a Troll

"Fart Proudly"

Franklin would have given some of today's keyboard warriors a run for their money if he was still around. He was an expert troll. He wrote under a number of different pseudonyms and aliases to push his thoughts in newspapers and science journals. One of the most trollish pieces that Frankin wrote was called "Fart Proudly." This was an eloquent essay about farting and was also a jab at Europe's elites. Franklin grew to believe the elite social circles were getting way too pretentious, especially in the realm of science.



He Played an Obscure Musical Instrument

The Armonica

Not only did Franklin play an obscure instrument, but he's the one who invented it. Franklin got the idea for the armonica after watching performers use wine glasses filled with various levels of liquid to create music. He took the concept and built the wine glasses into an actual musical instrument. Legend has it that some of the greatest composers in history used Ben's armonica, but the instrument quickly fell out of fashion not long after his death. Perhaps we will see some hipsters resurrecting this thing soon?



Ben Did What He Loved and Didn't Care About the Money

No Patents

It seems to be a hipster or even millennial stereotype these days to want to go and do meaningful work or work for a company where the mission is more important than the salary. It makes me think of Tom's shoe brand amongst other things. However, Franklin was no different. Of all the amazing inventions Franklin created over his lifetime, he never once patented an invention for profit. He believed that his inventions were for the good of humankind and he didn't see any reason to turn them into profit. 

Honorable Mentions:

Franklin loved craft booze and supposedly had thousands of bottles of wine in his French home.

Franklin thought the Bald Eagle was too mainstream to be the United States' national bird and wanted it to be the simple Turkey instead.


Bryant HoltComment