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In 1781, Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay about farting

Benjamin Franklin, deep in thought over the mysteries of flatulence.

In 1781, Benjamin Franklin decided to write about a truly important scientific topic: flatulence.

"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," Franklin wrote in an essay variously known as "To the Royal Academy of Farting" or simply "Fart Proudly." "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's reason for taking up the topic of farting? To urge the Royal Academy of Brussels, which had put out a call for scientific papers, to take up the goal of discovering "some Drug wholesome & not disagreable, to be mix’d with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreable as Perfumes."

In other words, statesman, author, scientist, and inventor Benjamin Franklin wanted scientists to focus on creating a medicine that would make farts smell good.

Of course, the whole essay (which you can read here) was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Franklin — who was living in Paris at the time — was frustrated by the impracticality of most questions taken up by the scientific establishment, so he wrote this essay in response, but 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.

Franklin's dream is still unrealized: we don't have a medicine that makes farts smell good, though we do have drugs (like Beano) that cut down on gas production. Research has also found that foods which contain hydrogen sulfide — like beans, onions, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and dairy — disproportionately contribute to farts smelling bad.

In the essay, after making a few shrewd body-odor-related observations (namely, that asparagus makes urine smell bad, and turpentine makes it smell good), Franklin asserted that the value of a medicine that makes farts smell good would trump many of science's biggest achievements. "What Comfort can the Vortices of Descartes give to a Man who has Whirlwinds in his Bowels!" he exclaimed.

Finally, he concluded with a few puns — declaring that when it comes to practicality, the discoveries of Aristotle, Newton, Descartes, and others are "scarcely worth a FART-HING."

For more on farting: 9 surprising facts about flatulence you may not know

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