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Ben Franklin Discovery of Electricity

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Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in the understanding of modern electricity. Early in his childhood, Franklin began to show an interest in how this wonder worked, exactly. His friend Peter Collinson gave him an electricity tube early on, and young Ben began to tinker around with it. Many of the ideas, terms, and discoveries made by Franklin while tinkering are still in use today. Ben also believed that lightning (and electricity in general) was a current that could be harnessed for use.

To test this odd theory, he went out on a stormy day in June of 1752 to fly a kite. This experiment became the famous fable of Ben Franklin and his lightning electrocution. Ben went out and, allegedly, conducted electricity via a wet kite. The string supposedly conducted the electric current to a key tied to the end, which Franklin touched with his knuckle. Upon contact, according to his 21 year-old son (who was the only man present, and thus the only witness to the event other than Franklin), Ben was electrified. According to a recent episode of the popular television program MythBusters, which reenacted his famous encounter, concluded that Mr. Franklin would have undoubtably died if he had done everything according to his son's account.

Ben also created many other inventions, a lot of which were electrically-oriented. The lightning rod, for example, helps to protect houses and buildings in the event of a potentially harmful thunderstorm. The current is directed to the rod which effectively routes it to the ground, thus nullifying the threat of electrocution.

Prior to Franklin's entrance into the stage of electricity experimentation, not much was truly known about the phenomena. It remained more of a curious enigma than an intellectual study, until the 17th century that is. William Gilbert was able to determine attraction between two objects when rubbed (i.e. friction) in the year 1600, which prompted research in the field. Stephen Gray, Otto von Guericke, Ben Franklin, Charles du Fay, Luigi Galvani and Robert Boyle all conducted experiments until the 18th century, when electricity was definitively proven to be a current of charged sub-atomic particles. However, global knowledge of the phenomena was not wide-spread until the late 19th century with geniuses such as Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Nikola Tesla popularizing their usage.

Eventually, the knowledge of electricity, that was undeniably expedited through Ben Franklin's works, became an essential tool for daily life in 1st world countries of the 20th century. It lead to the second part of the Industrial revolution, and managed to set the scene for television, radio, and computers to rise in popularity. Without Ben Franklin and his historical discovery, one can only wonder where we would be at today in terms of technological prowess.


- The Franklin Institute, Electrified Ben

- Mr. Nussbaum, The Discovery of Electricity

More about this author: Daniel Khalil

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