Legend has it that Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity on June 15, 1752. Hey, isn’t today June 15? Okay, fine, we knew that. But it’s more than just June 15. Thanks to Mr. Franklin, it’s also Fly a Kite Day! [photo via pixabay]
Benjamin Franklin first began conducting experiments with electricity in 1747 and continued to experiment for almost a decade. That’s ten years of experiments. Your kids probably have a hard enough time staying focused in one 45-minute class. Props to you, Benjamin Franklin. And, thankfully, Franklin documented his work and ideas in letters to Peter Collinson, a friend and fellow scientist in London. That’s why we know that 1749 was a big year. Why was it such a big year? Well, that’s when Franklin first documented what he believed to be similarities between electricity and lightning: the color of the light, the crooked direction, the crackling noise, and other things. He suspected that lightning was electrical in nature, and he wanted to prove it.
So, what was he waiting for? Well, Franklin knew he could prove his theory if the lightning passed through metal. His first idea, then, was to wait for the steeple on top of the Church of Christ to be completed. It was a good idea, but his impatience got the best of him (which seems slightly weird to us, seeing as he was was patient enough to conduct experiments for a full decade, but, hey, what do we know). So, he decided to try out a more impromptu version: a kite and a key. It was pretty good thinking, too. He knew that the kite could get close to storm clouds, and he knew that a metal key would attract the charge. When the lightning struck, it would travel down the string and charge the key. So, when Franklin touched the key and received an electrical shock, he knew he had proved his theory.
At some point, we all learn the story of Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment. But, what most people don’t know, is that there’s still a question as to whether it actually happened. The only witness to the experiment, apparently, was Franklin’s son William. And, in 1752, Franklin wrote an article in the Pennsylvania Gazette that described a theoretical — key word there being theoretical — kite-flying experiment. But Franklin was credited to the actual experiment in Joseph Priestley’s History and Present Status of Electricity in 1767. So, as far as we can tell, the guy deserves a pat on the back.
Even if the experiment wasn’t actually carried out, Franklin’s discovery — no matter how it came about — led to his invention of the lightning rod, which protects people, buildings, and ships to this day. And he’s also credited with coining terms related to electricity that we still use today (although perhaps not on a daily basis for most of us), including electrician, conductor, condenser, charge, discharge, uncharged, negative, minus, plus, electric shock, and battery.
So, yes, it’s June 15th and it’s Fly a Kite Day. Surprisingly enough, we suggest you fly a kite to celebrate. But also take the time to appreciate Benjamin Franklin and his passion for science. If it had been any one of us, we would have gotten bored and threw in the towel long before the ten-year mark.