Different Cultures

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Benjamin’s Franklin kite experiment

Benjamin Franklin's wildly dangerous kite experiment has grown into an American legend. Almost everyone has heard of Franklin flying a kite with a key in an electrical storm, but few of us actually understand how the experiment works. Ben hypothesized that lightning is an electrical phenomenon, and that the electrical effect of lightning might be transferable to another object and cause an effect that could be recognized as electricity. He set out to prove it in an experiment.

In 1752, on a dark June afternoon in Philadelphia, the 46 year-old Ben Franklin decided to fly a kite. With the help of his son, William, they attached his kite to a silk string, tying an iron key at the other end. Next, they tied a thin metal wire from the key and inserted the wire into a Leyden jar, a container for storing an electrical charge. Finally, as the sky darkened and a thunderstorm approached, they attached a silk ribbon to the key. Holding onto the kite by the silk ribbon, Ben flew the kite and once it was aloft, he retreated into a barn so that he would not get wet. The thunder storm cloud passed over Franklin's kite, whereupon the negative charges in the cloud passed onto his kite, down the wet silk string, to the key, and into the jar. Ben however, was unaffected by the negative charges because he was holding the dry silk ribbon, insulating him from the charges on the key. When he moved his free hand near the iron key, he received a shock.

 

Benjamin’s Franklin kite experiment

Benjamin Franklin's wildly dangerous kite experiment has grown into an American legend. Almost everyone has heard of Franklin flying a kite with a key in an electrical storm, but few of us actually understand how the experiment works. Ben hypothesized that lightning is an electrical phenomenon, and that the electrical effect of lightning might be transferable to another object and cause an effect that could be recognized as electricity. He set out to prove it...