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What did Ben Franklin have to do with all of this?

Ben Franklin sought to find out whether or not lightning was an electric phenomenon. Although this notion seems quite obvious to us today, Franklin did not have the tools to work with that we posess in the present day. The longest spark that they could produce was under an inch long. If Franklin did indeed do this "lightning" experiment (question has arisen over the years), he certainly did not do it the way that most believe. In other words, he did not tie a key to the end of a kite and hope for it to be struck by lightning. He took many precautions. In his experient, he began flying his kite when a thunderstorm was just beginning. There was very little lightning at this point. He suppoosedly had two methods of proving that electricty was present. The first involved drawing sparks from the key. If sparks could be drawn from the key, it possessed electricity which it received from the storm. Second, Franklin attached a leyden jar (a device for collecting electricity, or a capacitator). If it was empty before flying the kite and full afterward, that was good evidence that the thunder clouds contained electricity. Although the details of Franklin's actual experiment are sketchy, he did one of those two methods and conclusovely found that electrcity was present in the storm clouds. The key was never actually hit by a full-scale lightning bolt, which explains why Franklin continued living after conducting his experiment!

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