Ben Franklin'S Kite And Electricity
When a Russian Prince tried to fly a kite like Ben Franklin in a thunder storm, he got electrocuted. What really happened in Ben Franklin's experiment?
Everyone has seen the paintings of Ben Franklin flying his kite on a rainy day during a
thunder and lightening storm. Some people, including a Russian Prince, saw these pictures and actually tried the experiment for themselves. When they did, they got a shocking surprise. The Prince died of electrocution!
Think about it. If you or anyone -- even a Russian Prince -- is standing out in the rain
when lightening hits your kite, thousands of Volts of elctrical energy will come down the wire, through your body and into the ground, leaving you dead. That much power boils the water inside your cells.
So, why didn't this happen to Ben Franklin as well? The answer is an odd mixture of artistic theory and scientific fact.
In the eighteenth century, when those paintings were done, artists had no way to depict an act which took place both inside a structure and outside a structure. The prevailing artistic theory of the day simply could not countenance an image which showed both. So, the artists who wanted to glorify Franklin's well-known "Philadelphia Experiment" did so with Ben shown outside, sometimes sort of near a small porch roof.
If you read Ben's actual experimental notes, which are available at the Frankin Institute
in Philadelphia, you will notice that he understood this risk right away. He was, after
all, attributed with inventing the lightening rod about this same time.
Franklin actually stood inside a second story room, passed the line to the kite under a nail in the window jamb, and, for further security, he held onto a big ball of insulating hemp fibers.
There are some other problems with using the paintings as your guide. Franklin was seeking atmospheric electricity which is generated whenever there is a change in atmospheric conditions. It didn't have to be raining, as in the paintings, and his kite didn't have to be hit by lightening.
One more problem: the so-called Philadelphia Experiment didn't take place in Philadelphia. The confluence of so many wooden buildings in the city suggested to Franklin that he ought to go outside the city to try out his theory.
The Ben Franklin who invented fire insurance would know better than that!