The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

VI. Franklin

§ 7. Experiments in Electricity

In 1746 he witnessed Spence’s electrical experiments in Boston, bought the apparatus, and repeated the experiments in Philadelphia, where interest in the new science was further stimulated that year by a present of a Leyden jar given to the Library Company by the English experimenter Peter Collinson. To this English friend Franklin made extended reports of his earlier electrical investigations in the form of letters which Collinson published in London in 1751 with the title Experiments and Observations in Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America, by Mr. Benjamin Franklin. In 1752 he showed the identity of lightning and electricity by his kite experiment, and invented the lightning rod. In 1748, being assured of a competency, he had turned over his business to his foreman David Hall, and purposed devoting the rest of his life to philosophical inquiries. But he had inextricably involved himself in the affairs of his community, which, as soon as it found him at leisure, “laid hold” of him, as he says, for its own purposes—“every part of the civil government, and almost at the same time, imposing some duty upon me.” He was made a justice of the peace, member of the common council, and alderman, and was chosen burgess to represent the city of Philadelphia in the General Assembly. In 1753 he was appointed jointly with William Hunter to exercise the office of postmaster-general of America. In 1754 as a member of the Pennsylvania commission he laid before the colonial congress at Albany the “Plan of Union” adopted by the commissioners. In 1755 he displayed remarkable energy, ability, and public spirit in providing transportation for General Braddock’s ill-fated expedition against the French; and in the following year he himself took command of a volunteer military organization for the protection of the north-west frontier. In 1757 he was sent to England to present the long-standing grievances of the Pennsylvania Assembly against the proprietors for obstructing legislation designed to throw upon them a fair share of the expense of government.