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Benjamin's Franklin's Most Famous Letter Describing His Electricity Experiment By Flying a Kite

Letter to Peter Collinson, A Fellow of the Royal Society, That Was Read to the Society the Month Published

December 1752 Issue of Gentleman's Magazine

The famous experiment that made Benjamin Franklin, who never complete high school, Dr. Franklin (an honorary degree awarded by St. Andrews University in Scotland) and immortalized in the Benjamin West painting above was first described to an international audience in a letter to Peter Collinson in October 1752 and published in Gentleman's Magazine in December 1752.  That same month Collinson, a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, read Franklin's letter to the Royal Society.

Below is a portion of the title page with an index of the articles appearing in this issue that on the bottom left is a reference to "New Electrical Experiment by B. Franklin"  As you can see from the index, there are many other scientific articles in this issue, including a "New Theory of Aurora Borealis" and "Dr. Halley's observation of an eclipse."

Below is the start and end of Franklin's letter included in this volume and the full text.

The full text of the letter contained in this issue reads as follows:

Philadelphia, Oct. 19. 1752.

As frequent mention is made in the newspapers from Europe, of the success of the Philadelphia experiment for drawing the electric fire from clouds by means of pointed rods of iron erected on high buildings, etc, it may be agreeable to inform the curious that the same experiment has succeeded in Philadelphia, tho’ made in a different and more easy manner, which is as follows:

Make a small cross of two light strips of cedar, the arms so long as to reach to the four corners of a large thin silk handkerchief when extended; tie the corners of the handkerchief to the extremities of the cross, so you have the body of a kite; which being properly accommodated with a tail, loop, and string, will rise in the air, like those made of paper; but this being of silk is fitter to bear the wind and wet of a thunder gust without tearing. To the top of the upright stick of the cross is to be fixed a very sharp pointed wire, rising a foot or more above the wood. To the end of the twine, next the hand, is to be ty’d a silk ribbon, and where the silk and twine join, a key may be fastened. This kite is to be raised when a thunder gust appears to be coming on, and the person who holds the string must stand within a door, or window, or under some cover, so that the silk ribbon may not be wet; and care must be taken that the twine does not touch the frame of the door or window. As soon as any of the thunder clouds come over the kite, the pointed wire will draw the electric fire from them, and the kite, with all the twine, will be electrified, and the loose filaments of the twine will stand out every way, and be attracted by an approaching finger. And when the rain has wet the kite and twine, so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it stream out plentifully from the key on the approach of your knuckle. At this key the phial may be charged; and from electric fire thus obtained, spirits may be kindled, and all the other electric experiments be performed, which are usually done by the help of a rubbed glass globe or tube; and thereby the sameness of the electric matter with that of lightning compleatly demonstrated.


This issue also includes a description and full page diagram of a horizontal windmill and another plate with a Roman Amulet, a pulmonary machine, a new terrible plant and an "Improvement in the Orrery" all engraved in copper. The cut of the crested Fly Catcher by Catesby is not present.

The issue is in very nice shape, the high rag content paper is stronger than contemporary paper and has survived very well the last 260 years because it formerly was in a bound volume. None of these December 1752 issues of Gentleman's Magazine are available from book dealers or on the internet, except one as a complete 1752 volume which is offered for $3,900.  The description of that volume emphasizes the same letter by Benjamin Franklin to Peter Collinson in the December issue.

Price: $950/SOLD

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