1752: Early Draft of Franklin Autobiography Reveals Shocking Secret
As recounted in his memoirs, Benjamin Franklin flew a kite during a storm to prove that lightning was, in fact, electricity. A key was attached to the kite and, when it was struck by a bolt from above, the Founding Father saw it light up, thus proving his theory.
However, in a newly uncovered first draft of his autobiography, Franklin recounts how he also experienced a short-lived but strange side effect from the experiment.
“When I touched my wife Deborah afterward, white sparks did fly off me, shocking her,” he wrote. “Our cat almost hit the ceiling when I went to pet her. I thought, for a moment, John Adams had come to visit — but it was my electric touch that did cause it. No doubt ’tis short-lived.”
However, Franklin’s condition was even more extreme than he thought.
“The next day I was debating the question of independence with my fellow Philadelphians,” said Franklin. “I became very agitated, and when I threw up my hands in disgust bolts of electricity flew out of them, striking a tree and dislodging a branch not far from Mr. John Hancock.”
Intrigued, Franklin waved his arms again, shooting more crackling energy around the green.
“While the question of independence was not decided right then, I was able to ‘convince’ my fellow congressmen to personally liberate themselves from my presence.”
After a week Franklin’s electric powers soon faded. However, his experience taught him a great deal about the nature of energy, and inspired him to invent the lightning rod, which protects ships and houses from electrical damage.
“I was quite a lightning rod myself with the missus,” he concluded in the excised passage.