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"B. Franklin of Philadelphia," engraved by E. Fisher, London, England, ca. 1763.

"B. Franklin of Philadelphia," engraved by E. Fisher, London, England, ca. 1763. From the collections of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

This engraving of Benjamin Franklin by Edward Fisher is based on Mason Chamberlin’s early portrait of Franklin the scientist. The image, which was one of Franklin’s favorites, places him at a specific moment in time. As a lightning storm rages outside the window to his right, Franklin turns to observe the lightning bells on his left, waiting for the presence of lightning in the air to ring the bells.

Franklin had an insatiable curiosity which he applied to his studies of the natural world. In addition to his numerous responsibilities as printer, statesman, and philosopher, he often had several major ongoing scientific investigations. In Europe today, as well as in his own time, Franklin is best known for his scientific experiments and discoveries. He maintained a broad ongoing correspondence with many fellow scientists in England and France, in which he described his observations of electrical storms and studies of electricity. Much of Franklin’s work with electricity was published in England. His book, Experiments and Observations of Electricity, demonstrated his new theory of positive and negative charges, suggested that lightning was electricity, and proposed the use of grounded metal rods on buildings for lightning protection. Franklin's experiments established helped to lay the foundation for electrical science.

Source: This article was written by Greg Timmons, freelance writer and education consultant, Missoula, Montana.