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Ben Franklin: America's First Environmentalist

Updated on September 4, 2017

The Creativity and Genius of Ben Franklin

A man ahead of his time even in today’s era of green businesses

The more you read about Benjamin Franklin, the more fascinating a character you will find he was. He was Philadelphia’s cherished citizen and one of America’s most beloved historical figures. He was admired by the French, and revered by the ordinary and extraordinary colonists who helped create the United States of America.

Benjamin Franklin and his Ideas

Ben Franklin was an Inventor and More

Ben Franklin accomplished so much in his 84 years, from his various inventions to his involvement in politics, to his famous quotes that are still applicable. He was an influential person in creating the constitution, and many of the devices he created, we still use today.

In the Age of Enlightenment, at the dawn of the 18th century, Franklin arrived in Philadelphia from his birthplace of Boston, Massachusetts. The year was 1723, he was 17 years, penniless, and determined to start something new after severing ties with his family in Boston.

Franklin was the First Environmentalist in the U.S.

Did you know Franklin was an early environmentalist?
He pioneered many ideas as an advocate of conservation and to protect the environment against pollution concerns. He advocated for socially responsible companies, and wanted companies to be environmentally friendly businesses.

  • In 1739, he led of group of Philadelphians to petition the government to stop tannery factories from dumping in the creek, a tributary of the Delaware River. He was trying to create an awareness about socially responsible investing. The petition stopped the dumping, and helped to set a precedent for the future fight against pollution and to protect the rights of citizens for “health and happiness” over power and wealth.

Ben Franklin Started the First Fire Department

  • He installed the first bathtub to be set up in his home. The tub was imported from France, shaped like a slipper and made of copper.
  • Franklin was an early supporter of indoor plumbing, and designed the first of its kind 2nd story toilet in his house.
  • He started the first Fire Department in Philadelphia.
  • Ben Franklin proposed the idea of “Daylight Savings Time” to coordinate the hours of sunlight so that shopkeepers could coordinate their hours with farmers who worked around the hours of sunlight. His idea was never used in Franklin’s lifetime. Daylight Savings Time came into use during World War. It was another way to make businesses socially responsible companies.
  • Franklin developed a unique way to desalinize seawater. His suggestion was used by sailors in an emergency. The process he developed involved boiling the ocean water they had soaked in to take the salt out of it, and this made it drinkable.

Ben Franklin and the Philadelphia Water Commission

“When the Well is Dry, We Know the Worth of Water” — Benjamin Franklin

Ben Franklin Protected the Environment in Many Ways

  • In 1744, he noticed chimney smoke was dangerous, and suggested that people use chimneys less to keep the air healthier and purer.
  • In the 1760’s he led a commission that helped regulate garbage collection and monitor water pollution levels, as a way of socially responsible investing.
  • Ben Franklin helped establish the Philadelphia Water Commission and even helped set up a fresh water pipeline to run through the city. He wanted to show that the government could be an example to environmentally friendly businesses.
  • in the 1780’s he suggested to France and Germany that they should use coal like England did as heat to save the trees in the forests. Back then, coal burning was not seen as a problem, but Franklin had the foresight to save the trees. Even then, he understood about the concept of "green" business.

Franklin Stove

Franklin Was Socially Responsible in Many Ways

  • When farmers crops were devastated by natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, invaded by pests, or other crop destruction, Franklin suggested a government office that would give aid to the farmers when they needed it.
  • He invented the Franklin Stove, that was installed in the fireplace that let more heat into the room.
  • Franklin proposed that air circulation reduced germs, and urged doctors to open windows in rooms where patients were sick.

Benjamin Franklin and Electricity

  • Franklin also believed more in the healing properties of mother nature to doctor’s medicine. He was an ardent proponent of rest. He believed people should abstain from alcohol, and drink plenty of fluids when not feeling well. Something, we all know today is very true.
  • After Franklin discovered electricity existed in lightening, he invented a lightening rod on the roof of homes to the ground of the home to prevent a fire hazard.
  • Franklin believed in nudism. He called it air bathing and thought the human body should be exposed to the sun. Franklin himself read books while sitting nude in the sun room of his home.

  • He actively tried to convince people to wear light clothes in the summer to reflect the heat of the sun. He realized dark colored clothing absorbed the rays of the sun, and made a person hotter.
  • Franklin invented a 4 sided street lamp to replace the existing globe lamps. The Franklin lamp let off less smoke, and was more fuel efficient. His lamps gave off better light, and made the city streets safer than the hazy glow of the existing lamps of the time. Environmentally conscious companies could take cues from Franklin's ideas.
  • Franklin fought hard to save our forests. He built his own paper mill to give himself a constant and cheaper supply of newsprint. This also allowed him to undercut his competitors. Franklin himself created a way to do socially responsible investing for the future of our trees.

  • Ben Franklin was the post master general and established post offices in all 13 colonies. This cut the time of mailing from Philadephia to Boston from 6 weeks to 6 days.
  • Franklin was not a vegetarian, but advocated the idea of eating less red meat. He suggested people also eat fish, chicken, and turkey. He did not want people to eat duck, because he believed it was too fatty. He also observed that people overate, so he suggested a supper that was a light meal. He encouraged people to eat more vegetables to prevent scurvy.
  • Franklin included in his will, money for a new fresh water supply distribution for the city of Philadelphia. He wanted to improve public health. The money was never spent on that and major epidemics in the late 1790s affected the people in the area. His socially responsible investing ideas may have prevented the cause of the epidemics.

Ben Franklin in History

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

An easy to read and fascinating depiction of Ben Franklin who made his mark in history in so many ways


Franklin was a Protector of the Environment

Ben Franklin was a big proponent of the good quality of life through a healthy environment.He advocated for socially responsible investing.  He was a keen observer and worked hard to keep the city of Philadephia’s environment clean and pure for all its citizens. He saw the necessity for green business even back then. He believed that people could be better and healthier also, by making a few changes in their lifestyle. His foresight, savvy observation, and determination to create awareness for environmentally  conscious companies to protect the environment, centuries ago, is some of the many reasons Ben Franklin is a genius in American history. 

Test Your Knowledge About Benjamin Franklin

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If Ben Franklin were around today, who knows what he may have thought of to alleviate and prevent the major environmental issues we face today.

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    • profile image

      Isaac 2 years ago

      I am a I want to know how Ben Franklin discovered electricity please send picture

    • pan1974 profile image

      April 6 years ago from Columbus,Ga


    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 6 years ago

      Ben Franklin has aslways been a favorite of mine. What a man. There were so many things he invented!!! His life was amazing. Thank you for the great Hub!

    • Doc Snow profile image

      Doc Snow 6 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      What an interesting Hub! Knew some of this, but a lot more is new to me.

      Well done.

    • mikicagle profile image

      mikicagle 7 years ago from Oklahoma

      This is so awesome. I am teaching my fifth graders about Ben Franklin now-they will love some of the information you provided. Thanks

    • sueroy333 profile image

      Susan Mills 7 years ago from Indiana

      I have studied Mr. Franklin extensively, and yet, there were still things here I had not read about the man. It just goes to show what an amazing person he truly was!

      Voted up!! Thanks for the info!!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Rated Up!

    • bobthym profile image

      bobthym 7 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      As someone interested in the genre of nature writing and as an environmentalist, I loved this piece. Not surprised that Franklin was green. An excellent example of an Enlightenment thinker. Philosophical but pragmatic.

    • POWERS1205 profile image

      POWERS1205 7 years ago

      Ben Franklin is one of my most favorite peiple from history. Thank you for this article!

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Great article. Thanks for sharing...

    • rotl profile image

      rotl 7 years ago from Florida

      Wow... who woulda thunk it? Very cool... I guess he truly was ahead of his time. But I wonder how his progressive ideas on the environment were received back then?

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I hope he would change his mind about daylight savings time. It does nothing but throw of my biological clock. With flex time and alternate work schedules if is totally unnecessary.

      However, I am an admirer of franklin.