Benjamin Franklin's famous kite experiment in 1752 was a seminal moment in the understanding of electricity and lightning. Although Franklin was not the first to suggest that lightning was electrical in nature, his simple but ingenious experiment provided concrete evidence that electrified clouds are the source of lightning. This confirmation that lightning behaves just like electricity but on a much larger scale paved the way for the practical application of electricity, including the development of electrical wiring.

Franklin's Insights into Electricity

Long before the kite experiment, Benjamin Franklin had been conducting investigations into the mysterious phenomenon of electricity. In 1746, he began experimenting with charged glass tubes and other devices that produced static electricity through friction. He coined terms like positive, negative, charge and discharge that are still used today in electrostatics.

Franklin observed that electricity could knock down people, create sparks, and charge objects over distance. This led him to speculate that the effects of electricity on a small scale could also explain natural phenomena like lightning on a grand scale. If lightning was just a gigantic electrical spark, then it could be studied and understood using electrical experiments.

Performing the Kite Experiment

To test his hypothesis about lightning and electricity, Franklin devised his famous kite experiment. He created a simple kite with a metal tip attached to a silk string. On a stormy day in June 1752, Franklin and his son William went out to fly the kite. As rain fell around them, Franklin moved his hand near the key attached to the kite string and was thrilled to observe an electrical spark jump to his knuckle.

The wet string was able to conduct electricity down from the electrified clouds above to the grounded metal key. Franklin had experimentally demonstrated that lightning was indeed electrical in nature. His groundbreaking insight laid the foundation for using metal wires to safely direct electricity.

Practical Applications of Harnessing Electricity

Armed with evidence from the kite experiment that electricity could be drawn down from the skies, Franklin and others began developing practical applications to exploit the power of electricity:

Without Franklin's kite experiment confirming the electrical nature of lightning, these technologies that underpin modern civilization may not have emerged so rapidly. The practical electrical wiring inside our homes and workplaces is a direct legacy of that fateful stormy day in 1752.

Later Refinements to Electrical Understanding

In the centuries after Franklin flew his kite, rapid progress electrified the world, both literally and figuratively. Scientists like Alessandro Volta, André-Marie Ampère, and Michael Faraday built on Franklin's pioneering work with in-depth investigations of electromagnetism and electrochemistry.

Their discoveries led to major advancements like electric batteries, generators, and motors. When Thomas Edison and others developed reliable incandescent bulbs, electrically wired buildings with lighting soon became ubiquitous. Insights revealed by Franklin's simple kite experiment catalyzed an electrical revolution that profoundly changed human civilization.


Benjamin Franklin's confirmation that lightning was electrical power from the skies changed history. It allowed Franklin and others to develop practical electrical systems powered by conducting wires that could harness this natural energy. The electrical wiring hidden behind our walls is thus a direct legacy of that fateful kite flight. Franklin's insights electrified technology and helped inaugurate the modern electric world.