Pat Shingleton: "Ben and the Kite..."
With massive lightning hits in the northern sections of the state yesterday afternoon and a Kite Festival in Port Allen today and Sunday, possibly this column is appropriate... Benjamin Franklin invented pot belly stoves, bifocals and composed witty proverbs. His lighting experiments originally had nothing to do with the use of a kite. His first experiment suggested whether electricity and lightning had exact characteristics. In order to test whether the clouds were electrified, he proposed placing a sentry box on top of a high tower, large enough to hold a man. He suggested elevating and pointing an iron rod 20 to 30 feet into the low, storm clouds with a man standing on the floor of the box holding a loop of wire. Franklin never performed the experiment, but French academic Thomas Daliband did in May of 1752. He placed a 40-foot iron rod on top of a wooden pallet, insulated from the ground with wine bottles. A storm approached, the brass wires were connected to the tower and sparks flew from the rod. His tests were based upon Franklin's "iron-rod" teachings. Franklin wanted to duplicate the French experiment from Philadelphia's Christ Church on October 19, 1752. Three years earlier, physicist Alexander Wilson raised a train of kites 3,000 feet to conduct temperature soundings. According to notes from his diary, Franklin made a small cross of two light sticks, reaching the four corners of a handkerchief. Attached to the top of the stick was a sharp pointed wire, to the end of the twine, silk ribbon and the famous key. His diary indicated that "the lightning will be demonstrated and stream plentifully to ones knuckle." The exact location of Franklin's experiment places it possibly in mid-June in a now vacant lot near the intersection of Eighteenth and Spring Streets in Philadelphia.