Benjamin Franklin's Shocking Secret

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.

3 thoughts on “Benjamin Franklin's Shocking Secret”

  1. This sounds like an example of a principle discussed in the Journal of BioNeurology. Dr. Isaac Clarke of Oxbridge University called the phenomenon "bioelectrical-reflectivity." It's based on the principle that neurons, or nerve cells, transmit information to our brains by reflecting them electromagnetically from cell to cell. These “reflections” keep the information our brain receives organized. Otherwise, we would become confused.
    When most people are struck by lighting, the electrical energy shoots throughout their bodies in a random fashion. In those who survive, this causes temporary mental and physical instability. But Franklin channeled the energy through an electrogenic focal point (the key). This allowed Franklin’s body to assimilate the energy in an organized fashion, which is why Franklin was able to maintain some control of its direction.
    But while the original charge from the lightning was powerful, it was bound to fade.

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