Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans - Edward Eggleston

Franklin and the Kite

When Franklin wanted to know whether the ants could talk or not, he asked the ants, and they told him. When he wanted to know something else, he asked the sunshine about it, as you have read in another story. That is the way that Franklin came to know so many things. He knew how to ask questions of everything.

Once he asked the lightning a question. And the lightning gave him an answer.

Before the time of Franklin, people did not know what lightning was. They did not know what made the thunder. Franklin thought much about it. At last he proved what it was. He asked the lightning a question, and made it tell what it was.

To tell you this story, I shall have to use one big word. Maybe it is too big for some of my little friends that will read this book. Let us divide it into parts. Then you will not be afraid of it. The big word is electricity.

Those of you who live in towns have seen the streets lighted by electricity. But in Franklin's time there were no such lights. People knew very little about this strange thing with a big name.

But Franklin found out many things about it that nobody had ever known before. He began to think that the little sparks he got from electricity were small flashes of lighting. He thought that the little cracking sound of these sparks was a kind of baby thunder.

So he thought that he would try to catch a little bit of lightning. Perhaps he could put it into one of the little bottles used to hold electricity . Then if it behaved like electricity, he would know what it was. But catching lightning is not easy. How do you think he did it?

First he made a kite. It was not a kite just like a boy's kite. He wanted a kite that would fly when it rained. Rain would spoil a paper kite in a minute. So Franklin used a silk handkerchief to cover his kite, instead of paper.

[Illustration] from Great Americans by Edward Eggleston

He put a little sharp-pointed wire at the top of his kite. This was a kind of lightning rod to draw the lightning into the kite. His kite string was a common hemp string. To this he tied a key, because lightning will follow metal.

The end of the string that he held in his hand was a silk ribbon, which was tied to the hemp string of the kite. Electricity will not follow silk.

One night when there was a storm coming, he went out with his son. They stood under a cow shed, and he sent his kite up in the air.

After a while he held his knuckle to the key. A tiny spark flashed between the key and his knuckle. It was a little flash of lightning.

[Illustration] from Great Americans by Edward Eggleston

Franklin's Discovery

Then he took his little bottle fixed to hold electricity . He filled it with the electricity that came from the key. He carried home a bottle of lightning. So he found out what made it thunder and lightning.

After that he used to bring the lightning into his house on rods and wires. He made the lightning ring bells and do many other strange things.