The busybody: Benjamin Franklin’s greatest “invention”?

If I could have a beer with anyone—alive or dead—it would be Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin

Forget the fact that Franklin single-handedly convinced the King of France to join the Americans’ side during the Revolutionary War. In addition to providing troops, money, and equipment to fight, the French entering the war created a second front. Without this crucial help, we would have been unable to defeat the British.

Nevermind the lightning rod, an invention that’s saved the countless buildings worldwide for fire damage caused by a lightning strike.

It’s not for Franklin’s invention of bifocals. Like most of us, Franklin found that his eyesight was getting worse as he got older. Plus, he grew both near-sighted and far-sighted. Tired of switching between two pairs of eyeglasses, Franklin invented “double spectacles,” or what we now call bifocals. He had the lenses from his two pairs of glasses – one for reading and one for distance – sliced in half horizontally and then remade into a single pair, with the lens for distance at the top and the one for reading at the bottom.

bifocals
bifocals

Hands down, it would be for his invention of the busybody and the story that surrounds it.

This device is a collection of three mirrors hung from a window with a metal rod, arranged so that a person inside the house can see who is at the door without being seen.

The view from Jim Akers' second story busybody on West Walnut Street.
The view from Jim Akers’ second story busybody on West Walnut Street.

Franklin supposedly “invented” the busybody after seeing one in the red light district of Paris while serving as ambassador to France.

Legend also holds that Franklin used his busybody to slip out the back door when he saw his mother-in-law on his stoop. Now there’s a founding father a man could have a beer with.

Busybody
Busybody

You can find a busybody at 247 East Orange Street plus an original fire mark invented by—wait for it—Benjamin Franklin at the former home of Lancaster’s first Mayor John Passmore. Click here to learn more about Franklin’s fire marks.

The four clasped hands is one of the earliest fire mark examples in the United States. The number listed below represents the policy number.

John Passmore was a colorful character as well. Click here to read more about him.

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