In the mid-18th century, Benjamin Franklin conducted a groundbreaking experiment that demonstrated the electrical nature of lightning. His simple kite-flying experiment forever changed our understanding of electricity and lightning.

Franklin's ingenious use of a kite and a key proved that lightning was actually electricity. This discovery led to new theories about the nature of electricity and innovations that harnessed its power. The kite experiment opened the door to advances like the lightning rod, the Leyden jar, and electrostatic generators.

Benjamin Franklin: Curious Tinkerer

Benjamin Franklin was a curious and ingenious man with many talents and interests. He was a prolific writer and publisher, founding the famous Poor Richard's Almanack. Franklin also dabbled in science, particularly the new mysteries surrounding electricity.

In the 1740s, electricity was sparking interest across Europe as more instruments were invented to generate and study it. Franklin was fascinated by accounts of electrical demonstrations and experiments. As a printer by trade, he eagerly published articles about the exciting new research in electricity.

Franklin saw electricity as more than just an intriguing phenomenon - he believed it could have practical uses too. In 1749, he published a pamphlet about electricity's beneficial potentials in medicine. He proposed that electrical shocks could jolt paralyzed limbs back into motion or even revive drowning victims.

Testing A Shocking Hypothesis

Long before the kite experiment, Franklin theorized that lightning was related to the strange electrical force he tinkered with in his workshop. This hunch was based on reports that lightning had drawn sparks from metal objects and set alcohol on fire.

Franklin suggested that an electrical sensor on a tall object could collect lightning's electrical charge from the air before a storm. This would prove his hypothesis that lightning was actually electricity. But how could he build a sensor high enough to reach a storm cloud?

The answer was a simple child's toy - a kite. Franklin devised an experiment to fly a kite with a pointed wire attached during a storm. This would draw electricity down the wet kite string so he could capture a lightning charge.

The Fateful Kite Flight

When Franklin first described his plan to launch a kite into a storm cloud, he was met with incredulity. The idea seemed ludicrous and perilously dangerous.

Eventually Franklin found a daring assistant - his own 21-year-old son William. On a stormy day in June 1752, they headed to a farm outside Philadelphia to carry out the risky kite experiment.

Franklin carefully constructed a large kite with a pointed wire protruding vertically. When thunderclouds loomed nearby, he and William went out to an open field. Franklin flew the kite while William stood nearby taking shelter.

As the kite flew up, a storm cloud passed over and rain dampened the string. Franklin tied his end to an insulating silk ribbon and brought it close to a metal key. To his amazement, sparks flew from the key! His electrified kite was a thundering success.

Electrifying Revelations

Franklin had experimentally proven that lightning was indeed electricity. His simple yet ingenious kite experiment electrified the scientific world and changed perceptions about electricity.

With further experiments, Franklin determined that electrical charge builds up between clouds and the ground, releasing as lightning when it discharges. This explained how thunderstorms really work.

News of the kite flight spread rapidly. The experiment was reproduced in laboratories across Europe, making Franklin an internationally renowned scientist. He published his electrical theories in Experiments and Observations on Electricity.

Franklin's landmark discovery inspired others to expand on electrical research and find new practical uses. One application was the lightning rod, which protects buildings by channeling strikes safely to the ground.

Harnessing Electricity

The kite experiment revealed electricity as a powerful natural force waiting to be harnessed. In the years after, electrical generators and devices proliferated.

One key invention was the Leyden jar, a primitive capacitor that could store static electricity. Discharging Leyden jars created fierce sparks, leading to electrostatic generators that produced electricity.

Scientists like Luigi Galvani also explored electricity within the human body. Galvani found that frogs' legs twitched when touched by metal charged by static electricity. Others debating Galvani coined the term “galvanism” for this reaction.

Franklin's Electrifying Legacy

Franklin only lived to see the beginnings of the electrical revolution sparked by his kite experiment. But in his lifetime, he went from dabbling amateur to respected scientist whose theories were widely accepted. More engineers and researchers would soon advance electrical technology that transformed society.

Today, Benjamin Franklin is remembered as one of the fathers of electricity, along with pioneers like Alessandro Volta, André-Marie Ampère, and Michael Faraday. The shocking power we take for granted owes a debt to Franklin's ingenuity in flying a kite. Over two centuries later, his simple experiment still electrifies our understanding.


Benjamin Franklin's daring kite flight in a thunderstorm demonstrated that lightning was electrical, upending previous notions. This discovery opened up new frontiers of electrical research and technologies that ushered in the Electrical Age. Franklin proved an electrical force flowed through nature that could also be harnessed to humanity's benefit. His kite experiment quite literally shocked the world and electrified the march of scientific progress.