Benjamin Franklin Lives theatrical performance live
Benjamin Franklin Lives Get Tickets Now

Benjamin Franklin and His Letter to Peter Collinson – Observing the Strange Electricity In Action – 18th April of 1754

| August 16, 2018 | 0 Comments

Here is an interesting letter from Benjamin Franklin in observing electricity in action

Peter Collinson (January 1694 – 11 August 1768) was biologist, a Fellow of the Royal Society, an avid gardener. He became very interested in electrical experiments.

He wrote many letters to Benjamin Franklin. They began quite a letter writing friendship over the exciting subject of experimenting with electricity.

In this following letter, it is interesting that it is all about the “lightning bell” apparatus that Benjamin Franklin had set up inside his own home. And it hints that Peter Collinson also set up the same arrangement of apparatus in his home in England with instruction from Benjamin Franklin.

The two shared observation notes in their letters …

They seemed to have stumbled onto the concept that clouds could be of a positive charge or a negative charge !


18 April, 1754


Since September last, having been abroad on two long journeys and otherwise much engaged, I have made but few observations on the positive and negative state of electricity in the clouds. But Mr. Kinnersley kept his rod and bells in good order, and has made many.

Once this winter the bells rang a long time during a fall of snow, though no thunder was heard or lightning seen. Sometimes the flashes and cracks of the electric matter between bell and bell were so large and loud as to be heard all over the house; but by all his observations the clouds were constantly in a negative state, till about six weeks ago, when he found them once to change in a few minutes from the negative to the positive. About a fortnight after that he made another observation of the same kind, and last Monday afternoon, the wind blowing hard at southeast and veering round to northeast, with many thick, driving clouds, there were five or six successive changes from negative to positive, and from positive to negative, the bells stopping a minute or two between every change. Besides the methods mentioned in my paper of September last of discovering [9] the electrical state of the clouds, the following may be used. When your bells are ringing, pass a rubbed tube by the edge of the bell, connected with your pointed rod; if the cloud is then in a negative state, the ringing will stop; if in a positive state, it will continue, and perhaps be quicker. Or suspend a very small cork ball by a fine silk thread, so that it may hang close to the edge of the rod-bell; then, whenever the bell is electrified, whether positively or negatively, the little ball will be repelled and continue at some distance from the bell. Have ready a round-headed glass stopper of a decanter, rub it on your side till it is electrified, then present it to the cork ball. If the electricity in the ball is positive, it will be repelled from the glass stopper, as well as from the bell; if negative, it will fly to the stopper.

– B. Franklin

Tags: , , ,

Category: Benjamin Franklin Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *