Watt, Why & How e-Newsletter

Fact or Fable? Ben Franklin Discovered Electricity

FactorFableThis is fable. Electricity was known to science long before Franklin began his famous experiments. Franklin was, however, a pioneer in the study of electricity and made many important contributions to the science. 

Early studies in electricity

Experiments with electricity and magnetism were first conducted in ancient times. However, the founder of the modern science of electricity was William Gilbert, a 17th century English physician. Gilbert was the first to introduce the term electricity.

The first electric generator was built in 1663 by Otto von Guericke, a German engineer. In 1729, British chemist Stephen Gray first demonstrated that electricity flows and that some materials conduct it, while others do not.

The first electric storage device, known as the Leyden jar, was developed in 1745 by Dutch physicist Pieter van Musschenbroek. The Leyden jar was a glass vial containing water and a conducting wire that protruded through the seal. The jar was charged by bringing the exposed wire into contact with a device that generated static electricity. The Leyden jar revolutionized the study of electricity. It was used in experiments throughout Europe that included killing animals with an electric shock and sending an electrical charge across a river.


Source: www.nps.gov
Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin’s contributions

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was one of America’s founding fathers; a successful writer, businessman, inventor, and statesman. He made his fortune as a printer and publisher, then sold many of his business enterprises to focus on his scientific experiments and inventions. 

Franklin’s interest in electricity began after witnessing a demonstration of its effects in 1743. His experiments ultimately led to a substantial amount of progress in the study of electricity and its practical application.

Until Franklin's time, electricity experiments were confined to static electricity and scientists assumed that electric charge was created by friction. Through a series of experiments, Franklin concluded that all matter contains electricity and that rubbing two objects together merely transfers electric charge from one to the other. To describe this phenomenon he coined the terms positive and negative charge, which are still in use. Franklin also built and named the first electric battery. 


The kite flying experiment

While Franklin's laboratory experiments brought him renown among scientists, it was his interest in lightning that made him world famous. Others had noted the similarities between lightning and electricity produced in a laboratory, but no one had been able to provide proof. Franklin believed that clouds (like all matter) contained electricity and lightning was merely an electrical discharge. In a series of letters, he proposed an experiment involving a tall metal rod attached to a box with a man standing on it. If the rod came into contact with a low cloud and the man received a spark, it would demonstrate that the cloud contained an electrical charge. The letters were widely published and his experiment was performed successfully in France, making Franklin a sensation.

Before receiving word of the events in France, Franklin conceived and performed his famous kite flying experiment in the summer of 1752. With the help of his son, Franklin flew a kite with a wire protruding from the top and a key hanging from the bottom of a wet string. When the key drew sparks, he collected some of the charge in a Leyden jar and found that it performed similarly to electricity produced in a laboratory. “Thereby the sameness of electrical matter with that of lightning,” he reported in a letter, “was completely demonstrated.” 

Franklin’s experiments led to his invention of the lightning rod. In 1752 Franklin installed a grounded metal rod to protect his home from lightning strikes. Later that fall, Franklin published instructions for installing a lightning rod in Poor Richard's Almanac, and lightning rods soon began appearing all over Europe and America.

While Franklin did not discover electricity, he did much to increase our understanding of it. As Franklin biographer Walter Isaacson put it, “he found electricity a curiosity and left it a science.”


More From APCO

Sign Up Now Pay Online for Free with Paperless Billing

Pay Online for Free with Paperless Billing

Learn more

Download our new app

How We Restore Power Learn more

How We Restore Power

Learn more Create Your Own Emergency Outage Kit

Create Your Own Emergency Outage Kit

Visit AEP.com
Use of this site constitutes acceptance of the AEP Terms and Conditions. View our Privacy Policy. © 1996-2019 American Electric Power. All Rights Reserved.

Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy for Appalachian Power, a unit of American Electric Power (AEP)


This Privacy Policy applies only to AppalachianPower.com and the Appalachian Power customer mobile app (com.aep.customerapp.apco). Other AEP websites and apps may be governed by their own privacy policies, appropriate to the uses and needs of each. Throughout the site or app, we may provide links to resources and sites that are not part of AppalachianPower.com or the Appalachian Power customer mobile app. This Privacy Policy does not apply to those resources and sites.


By using this site or app, you consent to the terms of this Privacy Policy. Whenever you submit information via this site or app, you agree to the collection, use, and disclosure of that information in accordance with this Privacy Policy.

Information Collected

  1. Passively collected information

    During your use of this site or app, we may collect anonymous information about your visit here through the use of server logs, cookies, scripts, tracking pixels and other Web traffic tracking systems. This information is aggregated and used to improve user experience through analysis of user activities. This information is never combined with any of the personally identifiable information you may provide in your use of the features of this site or app.
  2. Personally identifiable information

    On certain forms of this site or app, you may be asked to provide information about yourself or your account with us, either to identify yourself to us or to request a service from us. In each case, we will inform you what information is provided at your option and what information is required to complete the transaction or activity you are engaged in. If you are unwilling to provide this required information, you will be unable to complete the requested transaction.

Use and disclosure of information

The information you provide to us will be used to respond to requests you may make for services. Some or all of this information may be added to your permanent account record and may be used for research purposes.

In addition, we may use elements of this information in the following situations:

  1. We may transfer the information to Appalachian Power’s affiliates and subsidiaries, unless such transfer is prohibited by law;
  2. We may transfer the information as part of a merger, consolidation, acquisition, divestiture or other corporate restructuring (including bankruptcy);
  3. We may make the information available to third parties who are providing the product, service or information that you have requested (but not your password);
  4. We may make such information available to third parties who are providing services to Appalachian Power (for example, providing the information to third parties performing computer-related services for Appalachian Power);
  5. We may use the information to communicate with you about products and services that may be of interest to you.
  6. We may disclose the information if we form a good-faith belief that disclosure of such information is necessary to investigate, prevent, or take action regarding any illegal activities or regarding interference with the operation of our site or violation of its terms of use; or
  7. We may disclose the information if we believe that disclosure is required by law or regulation or in response to a subpoena or other order of a court or other governmental agency.

Appalachian Power uses Flurry Analytics Service (provided by Yahoo) in order to improve its mobile apps. Flurry’s privacy policy governs the use of this information.

Also, Appalachian Power reserves the right to share any aggregated information (i.e., non-personally identifiable information) with any third parties for any reason, unless prohibited by law.

We will not sell, rent or otherwise disclose the information we gather about you or your account to any third party, except as outlined in this Privacy Policy.


Appalachian Power takes reasonable steps to protect your personally identifiable information as it is transferred to us, through the use of Web technologies such as the Secure Sockets Layer and others. However, no Internet transmission of information is ever completely secure or error-free. In particular, e-mail sent to or from Appalachian Power may not be secure.

How to Reach Us

If you would like to update your personally identifiable information or if you have questions about this privacy policy, please contact us.

Changes to This Policy

Appalachian Power reserves the right to change this Privacy Policy at any time. If this Privacy Policy changes, the revised policy will be posted to this site. Please review this Privacy Policy before you provide any personally identifiable information through this site. Use of our web site after the posting of a revised privacy policy constitutes your consent to the revised policy.

This policy was last revised on December 13, 2017.

Close ×

Sign Up For Alerts

Subscribing to APCO alerts gives you instant notification for:

  • Billing & Payments - avoid late payments and disconnection
  • Outage Updates - find out if there's an outage at your address and when power will be back on

Win an Xbox One with Alerts!

Enroll in alerts to be eligible to win. Subscribing to I&M alerts gives you instant notification for:

  • Billing & Payments - avoid late payments and disconnection
  • Outage Updates - find out if there's an outage at your address and when power will be back on

Loading video...