Today is the anniversary of one of the most famous science experiments ever conducted (no pun intended). In 1752, Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm, proving that lightening is electricity. With the help of his son William, Franklin attached an iron rod to a silk kite and tied a metal key to the kite's string. After drawing lightening from a cloud, he touched the key with his knuckle which generated an electric spark.
Franklin's experiment on June 15 led to his development of the lightning rod. In 1753 he published an explanation of this new device along with instructions on how to use it on buildings and on ships (1).
In addition to practical applications, Franklin's experiments contributed to the known theories about electricity. According to U.S. History.org,
Franklin's work became the basis for the "single fluid" theory. When something is being charged, such as a car battery, electricity flows from a positive body, that with an excess charge, to a negative body, that with a negative charge. Indeed, a car battery has plus and minus signs on its terminals.
Franklin was at a loss for known terms to describe his discoveries; as a result, he developed his own words, many of which still remain in the lexicon of electricity:
A Renaissance man in every sense of the term, Franklin's lifetime contributions went well beyond science. He aided Jefferson in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, persuaded the French to aid the rebel colonies in their fight with England, negotiated the peace with England after the war, and helped in the framing of the U. S. Constitution.
Perhaps Franklin is best known for his writings in Poor Richard's Almanack, published between 1733 and 1758. Full of proverbs, wit, and advice, Poor Richard's Almanack made Franklin an eminently quotable figure even though Franklin freely admitted that less than 10 percent of the sayings were original.
Today's Challenge: Franklin Never Said, "Go Fly A Kite!"
Ralph Keyes in the book The Quote Verifier traces the history of hundreds of quotes and misquotes, including several famous quotations attributed correctly or incorrectly to Benjamin Franklin. See if you can identify which of the quotes below originated with Franklin:
1. For want of a nail the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost.
2. Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.
3. Love your neighbor, yet pull not down your hedge.
4. Whose house is of glass, must not throw stones at another.
5. Fish and guests in three days are stale.
6. Things as certain as death and taxes. . . . (3).
Quote of the Day: The immortal axiom-builder, who used to sit up nights reducing the rankest old threadbare platitudes to crisp and snappy maxims that had a nice, varnished, original look . . . --Mark Twain about Benjamin Franklin
Answers: None of the quotes originated with Franklin. Instead, as Twain explains above, he adapted them all from other writers, making them often more clear and concise.
1. George Herbert
2. Ralph Waldo Emerson
3. George Herbert
4. George Herbert
6. Daniel Defoe
1 - The Editors of The Old Farmer's Almanac. Ben Franklin's Almanac: Wit, Wisdom, and Practical Advice. New York: Yankee Publishing Inc., 2003.
2 - http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/info/kite.htm
3 - Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2006.