Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky
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More about Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky

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Ben Franklin invented many things that we still use today: political cartoons, the first volunteer fire brigade, the lightning rod, and more. Unfortunately, the electric slide isn’t one of them.

This painting immortalizes one of Franklin’s most well-known achievements, the 1752 experiment that illuminated (get it?) that lightning is a form of electricity. If you’re wondering why he’s surrounded by putti and going for a Heavenly Bodies Met Gala look, it’s because Benjamin West is elevating Franklin to the realm of otherworldly allegory to communicate Franklin’s celeb status in the colonial world.

In case you don’t come from the city of Philadelphia, where the Eagles are still the Superbowl champs and Ben Franklin is a demigod, you might not realize how important this guy really was. He was a polymath, with achievements reaching so far and wide that you’d be surprised one brain could come up with all of them. He was a scientist and inventor, statesman and politician, and philanthropist and entrepreneur. Basically, he was the Leonardo da Vinci of the colonial United States.

Unlike the all-too-common wrongful attribution of Thomas Edison inventing the lightbulb, Franklin actually did what he is remembered for. However, we can still bust some myths about his lightning experiment. Despite sensationalized accounts – think George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, no one credits this experiment with discovering electricity. In fact, people were aware of electricity for more than a millennium prior to Ben Franklin messing around with a kite during a lightning storm. Instead, and way more anticlimactically, this experiment proved that lightning is a type of electrical charge. During the experiment, lightning did not strike the kite itself, either. If it did, Franklin would’ve gotten a healthy dose of electricity right through his body. The kite picked up the electrical charges floating around in the air during the lightning storm and gave him a little shock on his finger.

Franklin wasn’t even the first one to conduct the experiment. Members of the Royal Society of London caught word of Franklin’s experiment and laughed it off as crazy and implausible. However, because people were talking about it, a pair of French scientists tried the experiment and succeeded. The endeavor became known as the Philadelphia experiment.

During the eighteenth century, lightning frequently ignited wooden homes and wreaked havoc on the colonists. The kite experiment led to Franklin’s invention of the lightning rod, which prevented potential disasters by controlling the flow of lightning’s dangerous, electrical charges. Thanks, Ben!



  1. Bellis, Mary. “Inventions and Scientific Achievements of Benjamin Franklin.” History and Culture. ThoughtCo. 3 July 2019. Accessed 2 October 2019.
  2. Benjamin Franklin Historical Society. “Kite Experiment.” Accessed 2 October 2019.
  3. Benjamin Franklin Historical Society. “Union Fire Company.” Accessed 7 October 2019.
  4. Richardson, Jay. “Cherry Tree Myth.” Washington Library, George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Accessed 7 October 2019.
  5. The Franklin Institute. “Benjamin Franklin and the Kite Experiment.” Science. Accessed 2 October 2019.
  6. The Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky.” Collection. Accessed 2 October 2019.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky

Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky is a c. 1816 painting by Benjamin West depicting the American founding father, Benjamin Franklin, conducting his kite experiment in 1752 to ascertain the electrical nature of lighting. The painting is exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a gift of Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Wharton Sinkler in 1958.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky.

Comments (1)

Josh Hoefs

Benjamin West did a great job capturing this iconic discovery. By utilizing the stark contrast of the dark, shadowy skies in the background with the bright beam of light landing perfectly on Benjamin Franklin, West depicts Franklin's genius and status. Additionally, Franklin's robes and hair are blowing fiercely in what must be a strong wind, but Franklin remains seated on a rock calmly, symbolizing his courage and dedication. The compositional choice by West to have Franklin in the center and foreground also grounds Franklin as powerful and almost sacred.