Benjamin Franklin, one of the most important Americans in history, did scientific work before 1790. He had a large impact on America as well as the rest of the world. Europe played a big part of his career because the influences he felt from Europe help him develop and work in science.
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston in 1706 into a family of ten children and to a soap and candle maker. Although Ben had some formal education, he was primarily self-taught. At the age of ten, he served an apprenticeship for his father before going on to serve as an apprentice for the New England Courant. This is where he first published his works. (DOSB,129)
There were both influences from Europe and America I his work. Ben Franklin traveled to Europe many times. He sailed to London on November 5,1724 and arrived in London on December 24,1724. While he was here he visited many people and this would play a large influence on his life. In Europe there were a lot more people with the knowledge and interest that Franklin had and this created more will for Franklin to study science. This is possibly thought to be the spark of his science interest while he was in London. (ANB,383)
This was the beginning of many awards in his experiments to come. He was elected to the Royal Society on May 29, 1756. This is probably one of the most influential factors in his work and this is one way that his work was seen by people all over Europe and other parts of the world. Members of the Royal Society had their scientific works published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. (DOSB,129)
Some of Franklins first works were studying electricity in the 1740s and this was his most important work that he performed. Much of his work was based upon modifying Newtons theories of electricity. Two gentlemen influenced him in electricity, Adam Spencer in Boston and Philadelphia and Peter Collinson of London. Some of the first experiments that Franklin did were with three other gentlemen, Philip Syng, Thomas Hopkinson and Ebenezer Kinnersley, in Philadelphia. Franklin discovered here that a point charge would release energy from 6 to 8 inches away and a blunt charge would release at only an inch away. During these experiments, they observed that there was an electrical fire and now they would have to go back and explain all other observations of electricity using these concepts. They believed all matter had some electric fire but remained neutral until it gained or lost some of its electric fire. (DOSB,131)
Franklin also studied the Leyden Jar. This was one of his most successful analyses. The Leydon Jar was introduced to Collinson in a letter and was made with metal and water or a shot of metal inside. The first observation that Franklin made was that the water was positively charged. He discovered that the bottle could not be neutralized unless an outside object touched it. Franklin demonstrated that the two conductors had opposite charges of the same magnitude. He later discovered that the glass jar was the object giving the charge and not what was put inside. (DOSB,132)
Again we see the example of the influence that Europe had on Franklin when he sent Collinson his Opinions and Conjectures concerning the Properties and Effects of the electrical Matter, arising from Experiments and Observations, made at Philadelphia, 1749 to see what Collinson thought of this and from this he could see how another very knowledgeable and respected man thought of his experiment. After having been sent all of these experiments, Collinson assembled a 90-page book that was issued by E. Cave of London in 1751.
Franklins influence was apparent all over the world because on both sides of the channel electricians were using the ideas in which were published by Franklins work. Franklin was one of the first people to discuss thunder, lightning and the formation of clouds. Franklin came to the conclusion that clouds became electrified through the vaporization effect of water. He would not form a hypothesis of this because he was not sure if this was actually true but that was the only reason that he found could be the answer to his question. Franklin had Collinson publish his thought about electrical storms even though he did not know if they were actually true. He told all his readers to stay away from high points which seem to be vulnerable to electricity and told no one to take shelter underneath a tree.
On October 1,1752, Franklin sent a letter to Collinson about one of his most famous experiments. Franklin flew a kite which he attracted electricity through it and this experiment was heard throughout the world. Franklins work was said to be by many, the greatest since the work of Sir Isaac Newton. Ben Franklin was presented the highest award of the Royal Society for his work he did with electricity.
Franklin did not stop contributing his work to electricity after his award but actually went farther into his investigation. Franklin discovered that the clouds were mostly negative but were also positive, which meant that the earth often struck the clouds just as the clouds struck the earth. Franklin also noted in his experiments that a larger surface area could hold more of a charge than a lesser surface.
Although many of Franklins experiments were very well explained, Franz Aepinus explained that the force of repulsion could be gotten rid of altogether. Aepinus introduced the revolutionary idea that in solids, liquids and gases the particles that Franklin called common matter would repel one another just as the particles of the electric fluid did.
In the early days of his life, Franklin always had a passion for the see and had crossed the Atlantic eight times. Franklin was always perplexed by the difficulties of seamanship, ship design and the science of seas. One of Franklins first observations were that he heard of people talking how it took two week longer for mail ships to reach Europe than it took for merchant ships to reach New England. Franklin studied and drew the motion of the jet stream.
In his life, Franklin did not agree with the current explanation of light because he thought even though light was small, it traveled so fast that it would have a large momentum. This was later explained by the idea of waves of light. Later Franklin did experiments with the conservation of heat and performed many experiments to explain how heat was distributed depending on the conditions and surrounding objects of the fire. Franklin did not have any major contributions to the theory of heat in a specific area of differential thermal conduction.
Dictionary of AMerican Biiography,vol. VI, Charles Scribner’s Son, New York