The Resounding Will of Benjamin Franklin

A Conversation with Michael Meyer


In this episode, we welcome Professor Michael Meyer to the show to discuss his new book Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet and Franklin’s fascinating personality and legacy. But first, we take an extremely irreverent dive into Franklin’s most haunting invention—the glass armonica.

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The Glass Armonica

In Benjamin Franklin’s will, he stipulated that all of his musical instruments be given to his son-in-law, Richard Bache. That included Franklin’s glass armonica—a musical instrument made of spinning glass bowls and played by wet fingers. It is said to be Franklin’s favorite of all his inventions.

We dig into the haunting sounds and even more haunting history of this instrument—how it became associated with illness and death in Europe, why it abruptly went out of style, and how it was resurrected in the twentieth century by Gerhard Finkenbeiner, a man whose fate is still unknown.

Our thanks to Mayling Garcia for her insights and to William Zeitler for letting us use excerpts of him playing Amazing Grace on the armonica.

The website doesn’t look very updated, but you may still be able to order a glass armonica from G. Finkenbeiner, Inc.

A Mortography of Benjamin Franklin

A biography is literally a record of someone’s life. Michael Meyer joked that his book Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet: The Favorite Founder’s Divisive Death, Enduring Afterlife, and Blueprint for American Prosperity is sort of the opposite—a “mortography” because it centers around Benjamin Franklin’s afterlife. Specifically his last will and testament and the unique stipulations he set forth for using his money to provide loans to the working class in Boston and Philadelphia for 200 years.

We also discuss Franklin’s estranged son William, whose loyalty to the crown during the Revolutionary War cost him his relationship with his father. And we look at what Franklin might think of the world today, including Elon Musk and modern politicians.

Find out more about Michael Meyer at inmanchuria.com.



Angelic Music: The Story of Benjamin Franklin’s Glass Armonica by Corey Meade
See also: Gerhard Finkenbeiner meets Alan Alda, YouTube

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