A little known fact is that tomorrow, Tuesday, January 17, is Ben Franklin’s birthday. While most of us know he is one of the Founding Fathers, many people may not realize his importance to car science.
Franklin was the first American to be admitted to the British Royal Academy of Science for his work on electricity. We all have heard about his famous kite experiment where he nearly killed himself flying a kite during a thunderstorm. He tied a key to the end of his string to show that lightning was nothing more than a super powerful electrical charge. In doing this, he demonstrated that when the kite attracted the lightning, the electricity traveled through the string and shocked him with the key. Pretty crazy.
This is the same guy who invented the lightning rod. This invention was so popular in Europe among the people that Franklin became the most famous of all Americans before and during our war for independence. The lightning rod saved many churches, civic buildings as well as homes from deadly fires throughout France, Italy and elsewhere. The lightning rod saved buildings because it was attached to a wire that ran to the ground (called a ground wire), so when the electricity hit, instead of the building, it hit the metal rod and travelled to the ground, preserving the building. Because of this invention, many scientists, who were also devout Christians, held Mr. Franklin in the highest esteem. Retailers sold images of Mr. Franklin that even the average Frenchman could buy and they displayed his portrait proudly in their homes. French aristocrats were so taken by Mr. Franklin that they persuaded the King to support the American cause against the British. This was really at the king’s own peril and even that of the aristocrats because the American cause was about overthrowing monarchial power. The great truth is that Ben Franklin’s kite helped Americans beat the British because we couldn’t have defeated the British army without France’s military aid and funding. They were eager to help because they loved Ben Franklin and might I add they hated the British, too. The great irony is that by the French king supporting a republic, he sowed the seeds of discord among his own people who yearned for greater freedom and planted his own destruction.
Getting back to the science! How did Ben Franklin figure out that he could prevent building-fires with a lightning rod? First, he stood on the shoulders of many great scientists before him. His scientific predecessors, all Europeans, had been dabbling with electrical science for more than 150 years. At the time of his own experiments, electricity was considered a fluid. That’s why we say electricity “flows.” Franklin’s contribution proved that electricity was not a fluid, not a gas, and not a solid. Electricity was a gathering of charged particles that could be stored and released.
Ben Franklin is important to cars because he invented terminology that we all take for granted. He coined the terms “battery,” “positive” and “negative” charge.
So the next time your car starts, remember to thank Ben Franklin for your working battery and see to it that you keep your positive and negative cables and terminals clean so that your battery receives a proper charge!
In honor of Ben Franklin’s birthday, we are offering a free battery check and an oil change at $17.91. The price corresponds to the year that the Bill of Rights was passed by Congress. Ben Franklin was the oldest of the Founding Fathers to sign the Bill of Rights at age 81. He died a short time later, before seeing the precious document ratified.
Did you know that one of the early versions of the Bill of Rights was on display at the Museum of Natural Science earlier this month?