Picture of the Day: 'Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity From the Sky'

West_-_Benjamin_Franklin_Drawing_Electricity_from_the_Sky_(ca_1816).jpg

In about 1816, artist Benjamin West painted this likeness of American statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin, who was born on this day in 1706. Franklin's fabled experiment with a kite in lightning (depicted above) has been the subject of much skepticism -- he himself ever wrote about it -- but it is certain that he was interested in determining whether lightning was a form of electricity, having noted in 1749 a list of 11 points of similarity between the two. In an account of the experiment written by his friend Joseph Priestly, Franklin reportedly was doubting his plan when "he observed some loose threads of the hempen string to stand erect, and to avoid one another, jast as if they had been suspended on a common conductor. Struck with this promising appearance he immediately presented his knuckle to the key, and (let the reader judge of the exquisite pleasure he must have felt at that moment) the discovery was complete. He perceived a very evident electric spark." From this account the experiment has become a favorite of American history, though the accuracy of the account -- how the experiment was done and by whom -- is doubted. Over his lifetime, Franklin developed many inventions, including most famously the lightning rod and bifocals, but he never patented any, instead professing, "As we benefit from the inventions of others, we should be glad to share our own...freely and gladly."

Below, recent Pictures of the Day:

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

The Best 71-Second Animation You'll Watch Today

A rock monster tries to save a village from destruction.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Best 71-Second Animation You'll Watch Today

A rock monster tries to save a village from destruction.

Video

The Case for Napping at Work

Most Americans don't get enough sleep. More and more employers are trying to help address that.

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

Video

Stunning GoPro Footage of a Wildfire

In the field with America’s elite Native American firefighting crew

More in Technology

Just In