Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American Inventor

Benjamin Franklin | Biography for Kids

Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts to Josiah and Abiah (Folger) Franklin. He attended school for two years at Boston Latin School, and was thereafter self-taught. He apprenticed with his brother as a printer from the age of 12 to the age of 17, when he left his apprenticeship (an illegal act) and fled to Philadelphia.

In 1746 Benjamin Franklin was in Boston and saw some electrical experiments, which piqued his interest. He purchased some equipment, was given some by friends, and began his elecrical experiments. Although Franklin proposed flying a kite in a storm to collect the electricity, the experiment was first performed by Thomas-Fran├žois Dalibard in France. Soon after, Franklin also performed the experiment, without waiting for lightning, but rather simply gathering the electricity from the clouds. That was sufficient for him to conclude that lightning was electricity.

Franklin discovered that the electrical charge was more efficiently dispersed by a small surface than a larger one, and with a little thought was able to deduce that placing grounded iron rods, sharpened to a point, on the roof of a building would disperse the "electrical fire" before it could cause a real fire. With lightning rods installed on his house, Franklin collected electricity from the clouds and performed more experiments. He determined that all electricity was the same, but that there were two polarities - positive and negative - and that clouds contained negative electrical charges. He also determined that electricity is not destroyed, but travels in a loop from one polarity to the other.

"Franklin Bells" were one of his tools for long-term observation of electricity. The lightning rod on his house had a wire which, rather than going down the outside of his house, went through the roof, through a glass insulator, and into the hallway. The wire had a six inch gap cut into it and a brass bell was attached to each end. Between the bells was a brass ball suspended from above by a silk thread. When electricity would gather on the wire from the lightning rod, the ball would be attracted to the first bell and would swing back and forth between the bells striking each, and serving as a sort of alarm.

Because the field of electrical study was so new, Franklin had to make up a few words to describe the things he saw. A few of them are:

  • battery - a chemical electricity generator
  • charge - the electricity while at rest
  • plus - a positively charged electrical point
  • minus - a negatively charged electrical point
  • conductor - a material that allows electrical current to flow
  • condenser - a device that can capture and store electrical charge
  • armature - a device for switching electrical current

Benjamin Franklin didn't invent electricity, or even discover it. He showed us it could be controlled, opening the door for the many pioneers who followed.

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Printable Biography - Benjamin Franklin

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Printable Word Search - Benjamin Franklin

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Meet the Inventor Worksheet - Benjamin Franklin

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