University Libraries

Walter Library

July 11, 2014
8:00am - 6:00pm

Benjamin Franklin Exhibit - 2006

Benjamin Franklin
The year 2006 marks the tercentenary of Franklin's birth. There is a Congressionally-establish Tercentenary Commission charged with creating programs to commemorate the event. A Franklin exhibit was at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia will travel across the country and eventually to Paris in 2008. The IEEE has several relevant web sites (see below). An exhibit on Franklin and his work was available in 2006 on the first floor of Walter Library, including a copy of the 5th edition of his New experiments and observations on electricity made at Philadelphia in America by Benjamin Franklin, L.L.D. and F.R.S. To which are added, letters and papers on philosophical subjects. The whole corrected, methodized, improved, and now collected into one Volume, and illustrated with Copper Plates, printed in London in 1754.

Contributions to Science

Kite
Established, in 1752, that lightning is a form of electricity, just like the "fluid" that Franklin and others had studied in the laboratory for some time. This was not only a major scientific advance that made Franklin world-famous, but was also significant in showing that a dramatic force of nature could be explained and protected against. It was not, as some thought, supernatural in origin.

Although this picture, like many others, shows a lightning bolt, it is more likely that the experiment was done after a storm had passed, while the clouds still had an electrostatic charge. Flying a kite during a thunderstorm is very dangerous and could be fatal, as an experimenter in Russia discovered.
Gulf Stream

Created the first chart of the gulf stream in the Atlantic Ocean, a current of warm water that noticeably affected the transit time of sailing ships and, it was later shown, is responsible for northern Europe being warmer than its latitude would suggest. Although the current had been known to sailors and fishermen for some time, Franklin’s chart and his measurements of its temperature profile were significant contributions. Interestingly, no copies of the original chart he printed are extant. The one pictured here is from Franklin's article "Maritime Observations" in vol. II of the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 1786.

Inventions

  • Lightning Rod
  • Franklin Stove
  • Bifocal Glasses
  • Glass Harmonica

Websites

Books

  • Benjamin Franklin’s Science, I Bernard Cohen, Harvard University Press, 1990
    Walter Level F, QC16 .F68 C64 1990
    Link to MNCat Record
  • Stealing God’s Thunder, Philip Dray, Random House, NY, 2005
    Walter Level F, E302.6 .F8 D69
    Link to MNCat Record