The hilarious reason why Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay about farting in 1781

Benjamin Franklin described farting as a “great Quantity of Wind” and his request to experts was rib-tickling.

Flatulence, which is also called farting in a generic language, is a totally normal part of human biology, but it has been a hush-hush topic for decades. It has become a bit easier to address this scientific process of passing wind in present times but earlier, it was absolutely considered odious in almost all cultures. So, when a scientist wrote an essay about it in the 1780s, he left the world puzzled, as well as, surprised. It was Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, who presented his honest opinion on farting with a dash of humor in an essay. 

Image Source : American statesman, scientist and philosopher Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790). (Photo by Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images)
Image Source: American statesman, scientist and philosopher Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790). (Photo by Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images)

In his draft, he also hilariously urged experts to invent a product that would make farts smell like perfumes, as per Teaching American History. It all started when the Royal Academy of Brussels, which started in 1772, posed a question that they thought was intellectually important and had a ‘practical value’ for participants to answer. It was a mathematics question asking how to determine the greatest number of smaller figures that could fit inside a given geometric figure. Franklin had termed the question “absurd” and had a sarcastic response to this question. He decided to write a letter addressing the topic of farting and talked about its significance.

Franklin started the essay by requesting the academy to consider his proposal and if approved, then allow it to be enquired by “learned physicians, chemists, & c. of this enlightened age.” He wrote, “It is universally well known that in digesting our common food, there is created in the bowels of human creatures, a great quantity of wind.” He added that usually it is considered “offensive” to let out the fart because of its foul odor.

Franklin also talked about how one should not try to suppress a fart as it would bring in health hazards as in his words in the letter, “That so retained contrary to nature, it not only gives frequently great present pain, but occasions future diseases, such as habitual cholics, ruptures, tympanies, &c. often destructive of the constitution, and sometimes of life itself.” He then highlighted the fact that because of the foul odor, people are likely to avoid letting it out. According to Franklin, if these odors are not foul in nature, they will be happily released without any shame.

With a tinge of humor, Franklin suggested that well-mannered individuals refrain from releasing this gas in a social environment to avoid offending and embarrassment. He later proposed the idea of finding a drug or additive to food “that shall render the natural discharges of wind from our bodies, not only inoffensive but agreeable as perfumes.” 

Franklin talked about how certain food items influence bodily odors and therefore, suggested that altering diet or consuming certain substances might change the smell of the fart. He also humorously compared and took a dig at how our farts could have a better smell than our urine as he says, “Why should it be thought more impossible in nature, to find means of making a perfume of our wind than of our water?”

Image source: Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin (oil on canvas on panel from the White House collection, Washington DC), 1767. (Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)
Image source: Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by David Martin (oil on canvas on panel from the White House collection, Washington DC), 1767. (Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

Franklin, however, drew a bizarre yet funny comparison as he said that this comfort of farting without worrying is similar to witnessing a scientific discovery. “The pleasure arising to a few philosophers, from seeing, a few times in their life, the threads of light untwisted, and separated by the Newtonian prism into seven colors, can it be compared with the ease and comfort every man living might feel seven times a day, by discharging freely the wind from his bowels.”

Emphasizing the absurd nature of the discussion, Franklin ended the essay with a pun, suggesting that the intellectual topics addressed in the letter are equivalent to a “F A R T-H I N G” (a small British coin).

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