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The birth of electricity in Pennsylvania

If you think flying a kite was the only contribution Benjamin Franklin made to the study of electricity, think again. Franklin, who was both a skilled politician and scientist, initially proposed that what was then known as “vitreous” and “resinous” electrical fluid was actually the same “fluid” under different pressures. He labeled these fluids positive and negativethe first person to do soand in 1747 wrote the first statement of the conservation of charge: “The Electrical Fire is a real Element, or Species of Matter, not created by the friction, but collected only.” The principle states that electric charge is neither created nor destroyed, but that the amount of positive charge minus the amount of negative charge in the universe is always conserved.Franklin’s kite experiment dates back to 1750, when he proposed it as a way of proving that lightning is electricity. Sources suggest that he may have finally completed this experiment on June 15, 1752, in Philadelphia (a month after Thomas-Francois Dalibard of France used a 40-foot rod to imitate Franklin’s instructions). Those who have suggested that Franklin was in danger of electrocution will be pleased to know that the eminent scientist was in fact insulated (if he carried out the experiment in this manner at all). Others who followed in his footsteps, such as Georg Wilhelm Richmann, were not. Richmann holds the dubious record of being the first person to die from electrical experiments.Thanks to these experiments, Franklin was able to invent the lightning rod. He discovered that a conductor with a sharp point (as opposed to a smooth one) was capable of discharging silently at a great distance. These rods were the perfect way to protect buildings from the dangers of lightning strikes. The first lightning rods (after Franklin’s experiments carried out on his own house) were installed on the Academy of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania State House buildings in 1752. Franklin was awarded the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1753, and was one of the rare Americans to be elected as a Fellow of the Society in the 18th century. Today, the cgs electrostatic unit of charge, known as the statcoulomb (statC) or the franklin (Fr) is named for him, and the impressive contributions he made to the field of electricity. Today, Pennsylvania carries on Franklin’s legacy by offering efficient electricity to its users all over the state.