Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterBenjamin Franklin (1705-1790) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a well know scholar. A noted polymath, he was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, musician, inventor, activist, statesman, and scientist. It is this last that we will concentrate on in this article. As a scientist, he is a major figure in physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, a carriage odometer, and the flexible urinary catheter.
Since Mr. Franklin is best for electricity, let’s start with his work in that field. Foremost is to explain that he did not discover electricity, he merely discovered that lightning was electricity. He proposed that ”vitreous” and ”resinous” electricity were not different types of ”electrical fluid”(term for electricity at the time), but the same electrical fluid under different pressures. He was the first to label them as positive and negative and discovered conservation of charge. In 1750 he proposed his famous kite experiment to prove that lightening was electricity. Franklin thought to insulate himself from any possible electrocution, but a few others who tried to recreate his success died because they did not take the same precautions. He is thus credited with being aware of the concept of electrical ground. His experiments with electricity led to the invention of the lightning rod. The cgs unit of charge is named after him in recognition of his work.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the first people to publicly believe in ”paying it forward”, Upon his death, he bequeathed $4,400 to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, in trust for 200 years. As of 1990, more than $2,000,000 had accumulated in the Philadelphia trust, which was used for local mortgage loans. When the trust fully matured, the city spent it providing scholarships for local high school students. The Boston trust approached $5,000,000. A portion was used to build the Franklin Institute of Boston and the remainder supports the school to this day.
While this article is solely meant to feature Benjamin Franklin’s electricity endeavors, and may not do them full justice, his contributions in other fields should never be forgotten.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Electromagnetism. Listen here, Episode 103: Electromagnetism.