Man Flies Kite in Thunderstorm Risks Death & Invents Batteries
In ancient times the Babylonians used strips of copper in clay jars filled with lemon juice to create something of an electrical charge and during the height of the Roman Empire those devices were routinely used for a variety of purposes. Mostly by medical practitioners for various routine and experimental treatments of their patients.
That's right, in addition to inventing aqueducts, construction arches, flowing water, cement and indoor plumbing, the Romans were removing ladies mustaches via electrolysis almost two thousand years ago.
But the fall of the Empire, coupled with Caesars destruction of the Library at Alexandria destroyed the worlds ancient compiled and collated knowledge of science and, mankind had to start learning about nature and science all over again from scratch. Consider where we'd be today if the common use of electricity to do our work had been going on for 2,000 years.
Because as a researcher, Benjamin Franklin kept detailed notes and diaries we know that on this very day, June 10, 1752 Franklin flew his famous kite during a thunderstorm over a cornfield at his farm in Pennsylvania.
We all know the fury an afternoon springtime thunderstorm can produce, it was truly a death defying experiment, and we're all likely better off that Franklin's kite string didn't take a direct hit from a lightning bolt.
What actually happened was Franklin believed the air itself was full of electrical charges and that lightning was simply a result of these charges being stirred up by the atmosphere enough to go bang.
Franklin's theory was correct of course and he proved this by attaching the end of the kite to a Leydan jar, a sort of early capacitor used for storing static electrical charges.
While the jars normally were charged by some kind of static friction device, rubbing a cats back and then touching the jar's electrode, Franklin's experiment was the first time on earth an external naturally produced charge was captured from thin air. It must have been an amazing realization.
Later on Franklin would connect Leydan jars together to form what he called a battery, and he built batteries big enough to entertain guests by producing blue sparks that crackled out an inch or two both shocking and entertaining his dinner companions.
To this very day, the science of storing and retrieving electricity essentially remains the same. Gigantic corporations and research vessels such as MIT, NASA's JPL labs and others are still trying to figure out ways to build a better battery. It remains a risky endeavor as we commonly read of modern electric cars bursting into flames spontaneously on their own.
As well, once satisfied that the atmosphere is electrically charged and that thunderstorms created enough instability to create gigantic sparks lightning, Franklin also devised the use of iron rods attached on top of buildings with iron wiring going straight into the ground.
The Lightning Rod for which he never applied for a patent, has saved millions of structures from destruction by fire started by lightning. One can observe lightning rods on the buildings in downtown Lake Charles, some houses are even so equipped.
Of all the characters that have crossed the American stage in the past 300 or so odd years, Franklin is one of the more interesting and on this day 267 years ago, he flew a kite in a rainstorm and changed our world.
Think about ol' Ben the next time your smart device gives you a low battery warning.