Benjamin Franklin About Electricity: The Truth Might just SHOCK you!

Celebrate National Electricity Day

June 15th is National Electricity Day. It’s a great time to look at the famous story surrounding Benjamin Franklin about electricity! Where would we be without electricity? Quite literally in the dark! Many elementary school students are taught that Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity in 1752 when his kite was struck by lightning in a storm. This is a GREAT story, but it simply isn’t true. Ask George Washington after he’s done chopping down the cherry tree. (another great story that simply isn’t true!)

We celebrate National Electricity Day to honor Ben Franklin’s kite experiment and what was learned about electricity as a result, but not the invention of, or discovery of electricity.

Engraving from 1846 depicting young George Washington confessing to his father.
Engraving from 1846 depicting young George Washington confessing to his father.

Who Actually Invented Electricity?

No one person “invented” electricity. Electricity is a form of energy and it exists in nature, it had to be discovered, like gravity! Pinpointing exactly who discovered it, however, can be tricky. The Ancient Greeks discovered in about 600 BC that when they rubbed fur on fossilized tree resin there was an attraction between the two. This was static electricity. Archaeologists in the 1930s discovered pots with sheets of copper inside. These may have been ancient batteries meant to produce light. They were discovered at archaeological sights of both the Romans and the Persians.

By the 17th century, the discoveries related to electricity were multiplying! In fact, Ben Franklin’s kite experiment used what is called a Leyden Jar. This jar was invented in 1745 specifically to collect and store electricity. By 1752 when Ben Franklin came into the picture he was able to prove that lightning and tiny electric sparks were the same things. Spoiler alert – if Franklin’s kite had been struck by lightning, he likely would have died.

Advancements in discovery continue when in 1800 Alessandro Volta constructed an early electric battery that produced a steady electric current making him the first person to create a steady flow of electrical charge. By 1831 electricity could be created in a practical way – opening the door for American inventor Thomas Edison and British scientist Joseph Swan. They each invented the incandescent filament light bulb in their respective countries in about 1878. Light bulbs had been invented before this by others, but the incandescent bulb was the first practical bulb that would remain lit for hours. You can learn more about Thomas Edison and the light bulb by reading: National Inventors Day

Ben Franklin’s Kite Experiment

The details of Ben Franklin’s kite experiment are available in a fact-filled resource for you: FRANKLIN & THE KITE: LAPBOOK, NOTEBOOK, OR MINI BOOK. This curriculum is suitable for learners in grades 3 and up. There is both a video and Informational Text. You can use either or both to complete the activity. As a BONUS there is a Word Study included because Franklin is responsible for coining several words related to electricity.

Cover image for Ben Franklin's Kite experiment. Shows clip art of Ben Franklin and a kite as well as sample of informational text passages.
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With Love,

“Mrs. Crabtree”


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