Benjamin Franklin's Signature

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.

engraved portrait of Franklin with signature from the Frontispiece of the American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking
Benjamin Franklin
Courtesy National Library of Medicine #B012255

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.


  1. I do not see how a urinary catheter would be of benefit to someone who suffers from kidney stones. A catheter would relieve outlet obstruction of the bladder, allowing passage of urine. this impediment to flow usually occurs because of an enlarged prostate. Once a stone is passed from the kidney into the bladder the patient is home safe and the stone will usually pass out through the urethra, the patient is often instructed to urinate through a filter or strainer so as to catch the stone and send it on for chemical analysis.
    If a stone is large it will not pass out of the kidney, smaller stones will and this is when the problems begin, resulting in exquisite pain—it is said one of the worst pain known to man. The pain is caused by muscular contractions of the ureter as it attempts to push the stone through into the bladder. The ureter is the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. The urethra is the tube that connects the bladder to the outside, Obstruction to the urethra is what is relieved by passage of a catheter.

  2. Thanks for your comment. After further research I read an account of John Franklin having suffered from bladder stones, as opposed to kidney stones, as well as urinary retention, which would be treated with the use of a catheter.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.