Fart Proudly America! It's What Ben Franklin Would Have Wanted

Benjamin Franklin, esteemed statesman, brilliant inventor...proud farter? Yep, in addition to being "The First American," Franklin also authored A Letter to a Royal Academy About Farting (popularly known as Fart Proudly) a facetious essay in which he argued that scientific research should be directed towards finding a cure for bad smelling farts.

Ben Franklin engraving.

"Can you smell what the Ben is cooking?"

Proving that fact is far, far stranger than fiction (how could anyone make this up?), Franklin was notorious not only for his contributions to the birth of liberal democracy, but also for his contributions to the birth of American (toilet) humor.

Ben Franklin in fur hat.

"He who hath smelt it, hath dealt it."

Franklin is well-known for having published the annual Poor Richard’s Almanack, dispensing his unique brand of humor, wisdom, and political philosophy. Many of Franklin’s most famous (and tame) quotes were first published in the almanac including these gems:

  • A penny saved is a penny earned
  • There are no gains without pains
  • Lost time is never found again
  • Haste makes waste
  • Well done is better than well said
  • Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today
  • To err is human, to repent divine, to persist devilish
  • Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise
  • He that lies down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas
  • Fish and visitors stink in three days
  • Three may keep a secret if two are dead

Less well-known were Franklin’s more vulgar (and hilarious) writings. Case in point: Fart Proudly.

Every year the Royal Academy of Brussels held an annual contest in which the academy awarded a prize to the scientist that could solve that year’s challenge. In 1781, Franklin was living abroad as the U.S. ambassador to France, and found that year’s challenge, a problem in mathematics, of little practical value. So he did what Ben Franklin always did, he penned a satirical essay.

Royal Academy of Brussels.

The academy was too artsy-fartsy.

In the essay he proposed that instead of focusing on philosophical problems, Europe’s best physicians and chemists should devote themselves to solving a physical ailment that had plagued humanity since time immemorial—the smell of farts. Franklin writes:

“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. Permitting this air to escape and mix with the atmosphere, is usually offensive to the company, from the fetid smell that accompanies it. Well-bred people therefore, to avoid giving such offense, forcibly restrain the efforts of nature to discharge that wind.

Were it not for the odiously offensive smell accompanying such escapes, polite people would probably be under no more restraint in discharging such wind in company, than they are in spitting, or in blowing their noses."

Ben Franklin as a young man.

A Portrait of the Fartist as a Young Man.

"My prize question therefore should be, to discover some drug wholesome and not disagreeable, to be mixed with our common food, or sauces, that shall render the natural discharges of wind from our bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreeable as perfumes.”

Franklin goes on to explain that it is common knowledge that meat and onions produce the worst smelling farts and that vegetarians’ farts have so little scent that if they can do it silently, they can fart anywhere unnoticed. If a little bit of asparagus can cause urine to smell bad, and a little bit of turpentine can make it smell like violets (um, what?) then why would it be any more impossible to change the smell of our “wind” than our “water?”

Ben Franklin farting.

[Art by Kate Tibbetts]

Instead of dispassionately pondering Descartes’ meditations or Newton’s prisms, Franklin proposes an idyllic future in which hosts could offer guests their choice of fart perfumes in the same way that they offer wine and food. Surely he suggests:

“Such a liberty of expressing one’s scent-iments, and pleasing one another, is of infinitely more importance to human happiness than that liberty of the press, or of abusing one another, which the English are so ready to fight and die for.”

He concludes by pointing out that many of the leading European philosophers, including Francis Bacon, had professed their desire for grounding scientific inquiry in a more utilitarian approach that benefitted all of mankind. What, he then asks, could be of more practical use than solving this very human problem?

Anything else is “scarcely worth a FART-HING.”

Hahaha, good one Ben.

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