Franklin flies kite during thunderstorm 1752
On this day in 1752, Benjamin Franklin flies a kite during a thunderstorm and collects a charge in a Leyden jar when the kite is struck by lightning, enabling him to demonstrate the electrical nature of lightning. Franklin became interested in electricity in the mid-1740s, a time when much was still unknown on the topic, and spent almost a decade conducting electrical experiments. He coined a number of terms used today, including battery, conductor and electrician. He also invented the lightning rod, used to protect buildings and ships.
Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, to a candle and soap maker named Josiah Franklin, who fathered 17 children, and his wife Abiah Folger. Franklin’s formal education ended at age 10 and he went to work as an apprentice to his brother James, a printer. In 1723, following a dispute with his brother, Franklin left Boston and ended up in Philadelphia, where he found work as a printer. Following a brief stint as a printer in London, Franklin returned to Philadelphia and became a successful businessman, whose publishing ventures included the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack, a collection of homespun proverbs advocating hard work and honesty in order to get ahead. The almanac, which Franklin first published in 1733 under the pen name Richard Saunders, included such wisdom as: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Whether or not Franklin followed this advice in his own life, he came to represent the classic American overachiever. In addition to his accomplishments in business and science, he is noted for his numerous civic contributions. Among other things, he developed a library, insurance company, city hospital and academy in Philadelphia that would later become the University of Pennsylvania.
Most significantly, Franklin was one of the founding fathers of the United States and had a career as a statesman that spanned four decades. He served as a legislator in Pennsylvania as well as a diplomat in England and France. He is the only politician to have signed all four documents fundamental to the creation of the U.S.: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris (1783), which established peace with Great Britain, and the U.S. Constitution (1787).
Franklin died at age 84 on April 17, 1790, in Philadelphia. He remains one of the leading figures in U.S. history.
(More Events on This Day in History)
- 1775 John Adams proposes a Continental Army
- 1979 Paul Newman finishes second in 24 Hours of Le Mans
- 1864 Confederates score victory at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads
- 1953 Eisenhower rejects calls for U.S. “isolationism”
- 2002 Doughnut truck thief arrested
- 1991 Evacuations save lives in the Philippines
- 1692 First Salem witch hanging
- 1935 Alcoholics Anonymous founded
- 1940 Norway surrenders to Germany
- 1980 Mandela writes from prison
- 2007 Last episode of The Sopranos airs
- 1881 Tolstoy disguises himself as a peasant and leaves on a pilgrimage
- 1928 “Where the Wild Things Are” author Maurice Sendak is born
- 1990 Luther Campbell and fellow 2LiveCrew members are arrested on obscenity charges
- 1885 Arizona Deputy Sheriff Billy Daniels is killed
- 1963 JFK has busy day
- 1944 Joe Nuxhall makes MLB debut at 15
- 1965 Battle begins at Dong Xoai
- 1968 Westmoreland gives farewell press conference in Saigon
World War I
- 1917 Italians renew battle on mountain-tops in Trentino
World War II
- 1940 Italy declares war on France and Great Britain