While reading a biography of Ben Franklin, I learned that Mr. Franklin routinely gave his inventions away to the public, without collecting a nickel. Having made his fortune running a successful printing business in Philidelphia, he decided he had accumulated enough wealth to retire and pursue his scientific, diplomatic, and other interests.
His most significant invention was the lightning rod. Before this invention, buildings and towns frequently burned down when struck by lightning. Lightning was a force of God, capriciously causing death and destruction. Franklin single-handedly tamed lightning, and removed an enormous threat to mankind.
"As we enjoy great advantages from the invention of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously," he wrote in his biography, explaining in part why he refused to patent his inventions. It could also stand as a motto for the open source community.
He also invented the Franklin Stove, bifocal glasses, swimming flippers, and several other completely original devices.
Anybody else find it ironic that Microsoft sponsored the History Channel's recent Ben Franklin biography?