The ever inventive Dr. Benjamin Franklin came up with a lot of useful items, from the Franklin stove to lightning rods to lending libraries.
And he did, in fact, invent an instrument that he called the “harmonica.”
As a result, there has been a great deal of confusion over the years because the harmonica he invented is not the small, rectangular wind instrument one usually thinks of.
Franklin’s harmonica, now usually called the glass harmonica to avoid confusion, is a series of tuned spinning glass disks on a spindle that are half-submerged in a pan of water.
To play it, you put your fingers lightly on the wet spinning disks, and each makes an ethereal high tone like the sound of rubbing a wet finger along the rim of fine crystal glassware.
The sound is otherworldly, and several composers have written music for it.
However, for some listeners, the high tones send a sonic chill down the spine, and the early novelty of the instrument eventually was overshadowed by overblown accusations about its harmful effects.
That it caused nervous disorders in its players, made women faint, sent dogs into convulsions, and caused sleeping girls to wake up screaming.