The First Postmaster General

By Ginny A. Roth

Most people associate Benjamin Franklin with the invention of the lightning rod after he proved that lightning and electricity were the same thing.  But did you know that Franklin was appointed the first United States Postmaster General by the Second Continental Congress on this very day in 1775?  Franklin was appointed chairman of a committee to establish a postal system, which the committee did, called the United States Post Office, the system that is still in operation today.  Franklin appeared on the first U.S. postage stamp issued in 1847.

Franklin also contributed widely to the history of medicine. In 1751, Franklin, along with American physician and surgeon Dr. Thomas Bond, obtained a charter from the Pennsylvania legislature to establish a hospital. The Pennsylvania Hospital was the first hospital in what is now the United States.

Franklin also was an inventor. In 1752, Franklin invented the first flexible urinary catheter for his brother, who suffered from kidney stones. Franklin’s catheter was the first of its type created in America.

In 1784, as Franklin’s vision was deteriorating (he was both myopic, near-sighted, and hyperopic, far-sighted), he grew tired of switching between two pairs of glasses—one that helped him see things close up and another that improved his distance vision. Franklin had the lenses from his two sets of glasses cut in half and mounted back into his spectacle frames with the reading lenses on the bottom and the long distance glasses on the top, thus inventing “double spectacles,” the first bifocal eyeglasses.

portrait of Ginny outsideGinny A. Roth is the Curator of Prints & Photographs in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.