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Here's Why The Subject of Benjamin Franklin's Lesser Known Essay Will Blow Your Mind

Benjamin Franklin wrote an elaborate essay to address how farting is considered taboo in public and why it's pointless but he never ended up sending the essay to its destination.
PUBLISHED MAY 26, 2024
Cover Image Source: 1767, oil on canvas on panel, 127.2 x 101.4 cm (50.08 x 39.92 in). Located in the White House, Washington, DC, USA. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)
Cover Image Source: 1767, oil on canvas on panel, 127.2 x 101.4 cm (50.08 x 39.92 in). Located in the White House, Washington, DC, USA. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

One of the founding fathers of America and a scientist, Benjamin Franklin also helped draft a crucial document called the Declaration of Independence. But while his work as an inventor, philosopher and statesman is well known, few know about his infamous essay on fart. According to NewScientist, Franklin wrote the essay – now commonly known as “Fart Proudly” – in response to a call for papers from the Royal Academy of Brussels. He wanted to hit out at the pretentious nature of the scientific societies of Europe during his time. Franklin believed that they had become way too concerned about impractical matters. 

Image Source: Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 - 17 April 1790) American scientist and politician. Portrait in the studio in the act of noting observations on an electrical device, while the discharge of lightning is seen from the window. Colored etching by Edward Fisher (1722 - c.1782) from a painting by Mason Chamberlin (1727 - 1787), United Kingdom, approx. 1763. (Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images)
Image Source: Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 - 17 April 1790) American scientist and politician. Portrait in the studio in the act of noting observations on an electrical device, while the discharge of lightning is seen from the window. (Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images)

Franklin started the essay by addressing the "gentlemen" he was writing to. He wrote, "Permit me then humbly to propose one of that sort for your consideration, and through you, if you approve it, for the serious inquiry of learned physicians and chemists of this enlightened age." He went on to add, "It is universally well known, that in digesting our common food, there is created or produced in the bowels of human creatures, a great quantity of wind. That the permitting this air to escape and mix with the atmosphere, is usually offensive to the company, from the fetid smell that accompanies it."

Franklin wrote this tongue-in-cheek essay to the Royal Academy of Brussels after they sought scientific papers about a drug that can be mixed with food or sauces to "render the natural discharges of wind from our bodies, not only inoffensive but also agreeable as perfumes." He continued in his essay that if it was not for the "odiously offensive smell accompanying the escape of the air from our bodies" polite people would have probably been under less restraint when it comes to farting in public.

Image Source: Engraving shows American statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790) (seated, center) as he relaxes in the garden of his home, 1700s. (Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)
Image Source: Engraving shows American statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790) (seated, center) as he relaxes in the garden of his home, 1700s. (Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)

"This is not a chimerical project and altogether impossible," Franklin continued writing with a hint of mockery. "He that dines on stale flesh, especially with much addition of onions, shall be able to afford a stink that no company can tolerate. While he that has lived for some time on vegetables only shall have that breath so pure as to be insensible to the most delicate noses." He went on to add how some other bodily discharges also smell bad under certain circumstances. If a person is eating asparagus then their urine is bound to have a rancid odor whereas ingesting a pill of turpentine can prevent urine from smelling bad.

"And why should it be thought more impossible in nature, to find means of making a perfume of our wind than of our water?" Franklin further wrote. He also mentioned in his essay that there is a sense of comfort in farting without any worries and the sensation is similar to coming across 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," he added.

Image Source:
Image Source: "Declaration of Independence" - detail of the painting by John Trumbell. Undated color slide. (Photo by Bettmann / Getty images)

Despite writing a hilarious essay on farting, he didn't actually send it to the Royal Academy. Instead, he sent copies to a few friends, including British chemist Joseph Priestley and philosopher Richard Price, as per Vox. Franklin wrote this essay to address the main issues that are associated with this normal bodily function.

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