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

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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.

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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.

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