December 23, 2012 - Anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's Shocking Mistake

  Before the United States even existed, when the 13 American colonies were still loyal to England, people knew about electricity but didn't use it other than for parlor tricks. There was no such thing, of course, as lightbulbs and wall sockets and electrical plugs and cords. What people knew about electricity was the stuff we call “static electricity.”

This is Franklin's invention to create
and collect static electricity in
Leyden jars. 
One colonist that was seriously “into” fun tricks—and seriously into science, too—was Benjamin Franklin. In 1749, disappointed that he had not yet invented something electrical that was useful for humankind, Franklin amused himself by having guests over for an electrical turkey barbecue. According to APS Physics

He killed a turkey by electrical shock, then roasted it using the electrical jack, an electric device he invented that would rotate the turkey as it roasted before a fire, which was kindled by an electrified bottle. Guests drank from electrified glasses that gave them a small shock as they sipped their wine, and were entertained as sparks were sent across the river. Franklin also devised a game called “treason,” which involved an electrified portrait of the king, with a removable gilt crown. The picture was rigged so that anyone who tried to remove the crown while holding the gilt edge of the picture would be shocked.”

But on this date in 1750, Franklin tried again to electrocute a turkey by the shock from two large Leyden jars, instead he received the shock himself! Others said that they heard a large crack and saw a huge flash—but Franklin himself didn't see or hear anything, since he was shocked senseless. When he came to, he was shaking, but gradually his senses returned. He felt a bit of numbness at first, but that went away, and soreness, too, but that went away as well.

We Americans are lucky that Franklin did not kill himself in this electrical mistake! Of course Franklin is well known for his successful experiment flying a kite during an electrical storm—the experiment that proved that lightning is electricity—and for inventing the lightning rod.

Experiment with static electricity!

Try the activities at Science Kids or Zoom

Also on this date:

Linguist Jean-Francois Champollion's birthday

No comments:

Post a Comment