In the mid-1700s, I was interested in gaining a better understanding of electricity and lightning. At the time, electricity was not well understood, and lightning was thought to be a separate phenomena from electricity. My key and kite experiment in 1752 was groundbreaking in demonstrating the electrical nature of lightning. The experiment proved that lightning was simply a large electric spark and allowed me to make significant advancements in the scientific understanding of electricity.

My Path to Studying Electricity

I had been fascinated by electricity for many years before my kite experiment. In the 1740s, I conducted experiments with static electricity using glass tubes, globes, and my own home-made friction machine. These initial experiments allowed me to coin terms like 'battery', 'positive' and 'negative' charges, and 'conductor'.

However, I did not truly begin studying electricity in earnest until 1746. I was inspired by experiments conducted in Europe on the Leyden jar, an early form of capacitor used to store static electricity. I obtained my own Leyden jar and began replicating electrical experiments I had read about. Through methodical experimentation, I established foundational understandings about electrical charge and capacitance.

By 1749, I theorized that electricity and lightning were related phenomena. I proposed an experiment involving hanging a wire outside during a lightning storm to collect the electrical charge. However, I did not yet act on testing my theory directly.

The Spark of Inspiration

The spark that led me to finally test my lightning theory came in 1752. I read about an electrical experiment conducted in France using a tall iron rod and a grounded wire. The experiment showed that electricity could be drawn down from the sky.

Inspired by this, I proposed replicating the experiment using a kite instead of just a vertical rod. My intention was to directly collect electricity from a lightning storm using a kite, a key, and a silk ribbon.

Conducting the Kite Experiment

On a stormy day in June 1752 in Philadelphia, I conducted my famous kite experiment with the help of my son, William. I constructed a simple square kite with a pointed top and tail. At the top of the upright kite string, I attached an iron silk ribbon, which would collect the electrical charge. I held the base of the kite string with one hand and tied a metal key to the string with the other hand.

As the storm picked up, I watched and felt the loose fibers of the string begin to rise as the kite picked up the electrical charge. To confirm electricity was present, I brought my knuckle close to the key and received an electrical spark. I was then able to extract charge from the key and store it in a Leyden jar, proving the electrical nature of lightning.

Impact on Understanding Electricity and Lightning

The results of my kite experiment overturned misconceptions and advanced scientific knowledge. It demonstrated that lightning was simply a giant electrical spark from the clouds rather than a separate phenomena. This discovery led me to invent the lightning rod to protect buildings.

More broadly, my experiment contributed greatly to establishing electricity as a distinct scientific field of inquiry. Following my kite experiment, researchers made rapid advancements in understanding electrical generation, charge, current and capacitance. My contributions to grouping phenomena as 'electric' or 'non-electric' provided a basis for theory development.

My kite experiment opened up new horizons for progress and discovery related to electricity. The practical applications of electricity today, from power generation to electronics, owe a debt to my groundbreaking work identifying the electrical nature of lightning in 1752. The experiment was risky, but the impact on human knowledge made it profoundly worthwhile.


In conclusion, my simple kite and key experiment successfully proved my theory that lightning was electrical in nature. This discovery overturned misconceptions and allowed me to make significant advancements in establishing electricity as a scientific field. The impact on modern life by enabling technologies like power generation and electronics cannot be overstated. When I flew my kite in the rain all those years ago, I never could have imagined it would spark such an electrifying revolution in human knowledge and progress.