Did Benjamin Franklin really discover electricity with a kite and a switch?

On a stormy and dark summer evening in 1752, Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States’ founding fathers, scientist and encyclopedic thinker drawn on its $100 bill, experimented with a kite with a key attached to the tip of its string. The experiment sensed the occurrence of lightning and was hoping to deter its electric lightning by collecting and unloading its charges in a safe place away from humans and facilities.

The nature of lightning was not known – in practice – before Franklin’s experience (Getty Images)

Searching for the nature of lightning

Indeed, this experience enabled the invention of the lightning rod. But did Franklin discover electricity when lightning struck his kite? Or know there is a relationship between lightning and electricity?

Linking the name Franklin to the discovery of electricity is among the common myths adopted by the novices, as electricity was already discovered several centuries before Franklin (who was a contemporary of the period from 1709-1790). During that time, electricity was defined as the interaction of two different types of fluids, which Franklin later referred to as “positive” and “negative.”

We know today that what was termed as “impedances” at that time are electrical charges generated by atoms that contain negatively charged electrons orbiting a positively charged nucleus.

However, before Franklin’s experiment, why was it not known whether lightning was electrical in nature? Remembering Big Talbot in her Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World that Franklin was interested in this question; This is caused by lightning bolts of catastrophic fires.

Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better WorldPaige Talbot mentioned in her book “Benjamin Franklin.. In Search of a Better World” that he was interested in the nature of lightning (communication sites)

exciting experience

Whatsapp the report Published by Live Science, Talbot writes in an email that “Tying a switch at the tip of the kite string resulted in two conductors of electric charge. Thus, if a metal object was placed at the highest point of the building – while this metal object was connected to a conductor It transmits electricity away from the building to any other ground point – this will have a significant impact on the long-term safety of residents.” Indeed, this was the basis on which the electric lightning rods were built.

And so was Franklin’s experience: he flew a kite made of a silk handkerchief stretched over a cross made of cedar wood. While the tip of the kite string is made of two materials; The top is made of hemp string and attached to the kite and secured with a small metal key, and the bottom is made of silk by Franklin.

When a thunderstorm hits the kite, the hemp string will get wet with rain water and conduct the electric charge, while the silk strings that Franklin holds are dry because they are under a cover that insulates them from water.

Franklin noticed that the hemp thread straightened as electric charges began to build up on it. And when he placed his finger near the metal key, he felt a sharp spark as a result of the transfer of the negative charges accumulated on the key to his hand with a positive charge.

(Original Caption) Illustration entitled "THE PHILOSOPHER AND HIS KITE," depicting Benjamin Franklin performing his famous electrical experiment. Undated engraving.Franklin referred to this experience in his autobiography, and other writers in Europe wrote about it (Getty Images)

Endorsement and skepticism

Some publications at the time referred to this experiment, as Talbot notes that Franklin “published a statement about this experiment in the newspaper (Pennsylvania Gazette) on October 19, 1752.” Franklin spent his last years communicating his theories and proposing experiments on lightning.

Franklin referred to this experience in his autobiography, and other writers in Europe wrote about it, Talbot said. It is worth noting that this experiment was reported by the English chemist Joseph Priestley in writing The History and Present Status of Electricity, published in 1767, having heard about it from Franklin himself some 15 years after it occurred. Priestley stated that it occurred in June 1752.

Some historians are skeptical that Franklin did this experiment himself, or that he only specified how to conduct it, as pointed out Writer Tom Tucker notes that Franklin used the future conditional, rather than expressing the past tense of his experiences. There are also some missing details such as the date, time and location of the experiment, so Tucker believes that Franklin did not conduct the experiment himself.

However, some historians – including the famous American critic Carl Van Doren – do not support this view, especially since we know the month in which the experiment was conducted through what Priestley wrote about it, which means that Franklin had told him some minute details directly.

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