11 Amazing Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Benjamin Franklin

Before he was a Founding Father, the multifaceted, ever-experimental Benjamin Franklin was a great many other things—from street performer to political cartoonist, and even a middle-aged widow. Here are a few highlights of Franklin’s early days.

1. He Was a Great Swimmer

Young Ben was such an aquatic ace that his feats eventually earned him a posthumous induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968. One of his most famous adventures came on a visit to England during which a 19-year-old Franklin swam from Chelsea to Blackfriars (3½ miles) in the Thames and performed a number of aquatic acrobatics to the delight of his compatriots. In addition to his achievements within the water, Franklin was honored for his childhood invention of flippers—worn on the hands, not feet—and his hobby of teaching friends to swim. In fact, he was so proficient that he was invited to open a swimming school in England, an offer he turned down.

2. He Created a Pseudonym to Fool His Brother

At just 16 years old, Ben adopted not just a pseudonym, but an entire pseudo-identity to get his words in print. Confident that his older brother James would never publish his work, Ben wrote a series of letters to James’ paper, The New-England Courant—where Ben was an apprentice—as Silence Dogood, a middle-aged widow with sharp, satirical wit. Between April and October of 1722, Ben penned 14 letters as Silence and although they were well received, James was not amused when the dame’s true identity came to light.

3. He Kept Masquerading as a Woman

This was the first but not the last time Franklin would adopt a feminine alter ego in writing. During the course of his life, Franklin’s work would appear in newspapers under bylines such as Polly Baker, Alice Addertongue, Caelia Shortface, Martha Careful, and the not-very-creatively-named Busy Body.

4. He Rallied Other Scholars

At 21 years old, Franklin established a weekly discussion group among twelve like-minded men known as Junto. They met each Friday and, according to Franklin’s biography, “every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing on any subject he pleased.” If that sounds like a lot of homework, consider this: Franklin also detailed a list of 24 questions each man should ask himself the day of the meeting.

5. He Was a Librarian

As Junto grew, the group found that it lacked the required resources, namely books, necessary to settle disputes. So in 1731, Franklin convinced his fellow members to pool their resources to purchase a collection of books. A total of 50 founding shareholders originally signed on, and on July 1, the group drafted their Articles of Agreement, thereby founding The Library Company of Philadelphia, which remained the largest public library in the country up until the 1850s.

6. He Created an Iconic Call to Unity

Ben Franklin is responsible for the “Join or Die” drawing, which depicts a snake whose severed parts represent the colonies. He drew it after attending the Albany Congress of 1754 as a chief delegate. It first appeared in Franklin’s paper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, on May 9, 1754, and is widely recognized as the first American political cartoon.

7. He Wasn’t That Much of a Turkey Fan

Ben Franklin never said he wanted a turkey, and not the bald eagle, on our national seal. First of all, although he served on an earlier committee that discussed the Great Seal, Franklin ultimately wasn’t on the one that finally settled on the bald eagle. The oft-cited letter in which he calls the eagle a “Bird of bad moral Character” and lauds the turkey as “a much more respectable Bird” wasn’t talking about the country as a whole. Rather, he is writing to his daughter to complain about the Society of the Cincinnati, a military fraternity formed by Revolutionary War officers, whose symbol was also the eagle, one that happened to strongly resemble a turkey.

8. But He Could Find Uses for Turkeys

Although he’s mistakenly remembered as a proponent of turkeys, Franklin once tried to electrocute one of the birds. After bragging to a fellow scientist that his experiments with electricity could be put to use by killing and roasting a turkey via electrical shock, Franklin proposed to do just that for an audience. After several rounds of experiments, Franklin seemed to get the hang of it, but when the time came in 1750 for a demonstration, he ended up shocking himself, leaving him temporarily numb and less temporarily humiliated.

9. He Was a Clever Marketer

A very young Franklin, early in his apprenticeship days, assisted his brother’s newspaper business by composing mini-ballads highlighting the biggest news stories of the day and performing them on street corners. His father quickly discouraged this behavior, claiming that “Verse-makers were always beggars.”

10. He Could Really Talk About Drinking

On January 6, 1737, Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette published 200+ synonyms for the word “drunk” in what was entitled “The Drinkers Dictionary.” The handy list came accompanied by a note from Franklin himself: “The Phrases in this Dictionary are not (like most of our Terms of Art) borrow'd from Foreign Languages, neither are they collected from the Writings of the Learned in our own, but gather'd wholly from the modern Tavern-Conversation of Tiplers. I do not doubt but that there are many more in use; and I was even tempted to add a new one my self under the Letter B, to wit, Brutify'd…”

11. He Had at Least One Surprising Roommate

Franklin knew that you didn’t catch a cold from cold temperatures. This came up one night in 1776 when he and John Adams were forced to share not just a room but a bed. Along with Edward Rutledge, they were on their way to Staten Island to negotiate with Admiral Richard Howe of the Royal Navy for a possible end to the Revolutionary War. The inn they stopped at didn’t have enough rooms for all three men, so Adams and Franklin agreed to shack up but disagreed over what to do with their room’s window. Adams was worried the open window would cause him to become ill but Franklin argued, correctly but contrary to the wisdom of the time, that cool air would not cause either of them to catch a cold.

5 Fast Facts About Muhammad Ali

Kent Gavin/Getty Images
Kent Gavin/Getty Images

Muhammad Ali is one of the most important athletes and cultural figures in American history. Though he passed away in 2016, the heavyweight boxing champ was larger than life in and outside of the ring. The man who coined the phrase "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” won 37 knockout victories. Here are five more fast facts about Muhammad Ali, a.k.a. The Greatest.

1. Cassius Clay was named for a white abolitionist.

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. and named after his father, who had in turn been named for a white abolitionist. The original Cassius Clay was a wealthy 19th-century planter and politician who not only published an anti-slavery newspaper, but also emancipated every slave he inherited from his father. Cassius Clay also served as a minister to Russia under President Abraham Lincoln.

2. Muhammad Ali's draft evasion case went to the Supreme Court.

In the early 1960s, Clay converted to Islam, joined the Nation of Islam, and took the name Muhammad Ali. According to his religious beliefs, Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War when he was drafted in April 1967. He was arrested and stripped of his boxing license and heavyweight title. On June 20, 1967, he was convicted of draft evasion and banned from fighting while he remained free on appeal. His case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned his conviction in 1971.

3. He received a replacement gold medal.

At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Ali won the gold medal for boxing in the light heavyweight division. But, as he wrote in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story (edited by Toni Morrison!), he supposedly threw his medal into the Ohio River in frustration over the racism he still experienced in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Some historians dispute this story and suggest that Ali just lost the medal. Either way, he was given a replacement when he lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

4. Muhammad Ali was an actual superhero.

In 1978, DC Comics published Superman vs. Muhammad Ali—an oversize comic in which Muhammad Ali defeats Superman and saves the world. In real life, Ali did save a man from suicide. In 1981, a man threatened to jump from the ninth story of a building in L.A.’s Miracle Mile neighborhood. Ali’s friend Howard Bingham witnessed the unfolding drama and called the boxer, who lived nearby. Ali rushed into the building and successfully talked the man down from the ledge.

5. Muhammad Ali starred in a Broadway show.

In Oscar Brown, Jr.'s 1969 musical adaptation of Joseph Dolan Tuotti's play Big Time Buck White, Ali played a militant black intellectual who speaks at a political meeting. The play ran for only five nights at the George Abbot Theatre in New York. His Playbill bio reported that Ali "is now appealing his five-year prison conviction and $10,000 fine for refusing to enter the armed services on religious grounds. The Big Time Buck White role that he has accepted is much like the life he lives off stage in reality.”

15 Tasty Bits of Pizza Slang

iStock.com/Radionphoto
iStock.com/Radionphoto

Unless you’ve worked in a pizzeria, your pizza vocabulary is probably limited. But the crust-loving pros who are cooking up your favorite slices seem to have insider slang for everything, including whimsical terms for toppings and one-of-a-kind ways of describing regional pie styles. So if you’re looking up your pizza-talk game with words that go beyond ‘za, here’s a quick list of 15 terms you should know.

1. Tip sag

The dreaded tip sag is what you get when the pointy end of your pizza starts to droop. This most often occurs with top-heavy (and topping-heavy) pies, like Neapolitan-style pizzas with generous helpings of fresh mozzarella piled on top.

2. Avalanche

An avalanche is what occurs when all the toppings slide off your pizza as soon as you pick it up. This tends to happen when a pizza is still piping hot from the oven, so be smart and give it a minute to cool down.

3. Apizza

If you ever travel to New Haven, Connecticut, you might hear the locals order apizza (pronounced uh-BEETS). This refers to the local style of thin-crust pizza, which originated at the famous Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and has since become the area's pizza standard.

4. Grandma pie

This style of pizza is thick like a Sicilian pie, but with a thinner, denser crust. Although it likely originated in Long Island, you can now find it in pizzerias throughout New York City (and beyond).

5. Party-cut

Man delivers several pizzas to a customer
iStock.com/Rawpixel

Also known as a tavern-cut, a party-cut describes any circular pizza that’s cut into a grid. The portions are smaller and typically square, which helps ensure that everyone at your Super Bowl party will get a piece of the pie.

6. All-dressed pizza

Order an all-dressed pizza in Montreal and you’ll get a deluxe pie with mushrooms, green peppers, and pepperoni on it. In Québec, it's known as a pizza tout garnie.

7. Flyers

Slices of pepperoni pizza are called flyers, reportedly because of the way they’re often tossed around like Frisbees.

8. Guppies

Depending on your perspective, guppies is either a really cute or really gross way to describe anchovies. Other slang words for the fishy topping include chovies, carp, penguin food, and smellies.

9. Alpo

It’s not very appetizing, but crumbled sausage does kind of resemble dog food—hence the Alpo moniker. Other nicknames for the topping include Kibbles ‘n Bits and Puppy Chow, neither of which make the topping sound any more appetizing.

10. Screamers

Woman preparing a mushroom pizza at home
iStock.com/kajakiki

Mushrooms are sometimes called screamers because of the high-pitched squeal the canned variety lets out when they’re tossed onto a hot surface.

11. Edgar Allan

What does a pizza with pepperoni and onions spell out? A PO pie—which is close enough in spelling to Edgar Allan Poe's last name that it gets tossed around in pizza kitchens on occasion. Sure, P-O or Po would be easier (and quicker) to say, but it’s not nearly as fun.

12. Blood pie

Also known as a hemorrhage, this gruesome term refers to a pizza with extra tomato sauce on it. Now please forget that we ever told you that.

13. Coastline

The coastline is that little bit of exposed sauce you can see between the sauce and the crust.

14. Mutz

A margherita pizza fresh from the oven
iStock.com/svariophoto

Mutz is simply a quicker way of saying mozzarella. Likewise, wet mutz is fresh mozzarella.

15. Roadie

When you get a slice of pizza to-go, that’s a roadie. Enjoy it while it's still hot (but not so hot as to cause an avalanche)! 

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