Here’s a fact about Benjamin Franklin that just might surprise you: He was a lifelong athlete. Biographer Walter Isaacson even described him in his younger days as “physically striking: muscular, barrel-chested, open-faced, and almost six feet tall.”
Swimming was Franklin’s activity of choice, one he practiced all his life with great skill. (He even invented swim fins.) He liked to show off those skills, writing of his “many feats of activity, both upon and under the water, that surprised and pleased those to whom they were novelties.” Later in life, when he cut a more portly figure, Franklin still followed a regimen of lifting weights.
Franklin died decades before photography was invented, so we have to content ourselves with simply imagining the statesman in his bathing costume. But here’s a look at other early American sports and the men and women who played them.