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After 250 Years, We Still Believe in You, Ben

Jennifer Hazen - June 25, 2002

250 years ago this month Benjamin Franklin flew his kite in one of the most famous experiments in history. Many articles have been written to say that he may not have performed this experiment at all. We believe he did and use Joseph Priestley as the source of the famous claim. According to Priestley, Ben (46) and his 21 year old son set out in June (10th?) 1752 to prove Franklin's theory about the nature of lightning. Benjamin and his son went into a field near downtown Philadelphia. There they awaited a thunderstorm. They did not seek a lightning bolt, just the charged clouds. The clouds charged the kite and the kite string. Ben had attached a key to a piece of dry silk thread to insulate it from the natural fiber kite string (which was damp). As he flew the kite, he could draw an arc from the key to his hand thus proving lightning was the same energy form as the static electricity being used in labs across the country.

Franklin was not the first person to propose the similarities between electrostatics and lightning. He was the first to prove it by experimentation.

The results of this experiment were predicted a week before by French scientists. But no one until Mr. Franklin had thought to test the theory in quite this way.

After this experiment, Franklin became one of the world's most respected scientists with no formal education in the sciences. His experiment whether it took place as Priestley said or not, he did change the way we look at electrostatics.

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