Benjamin Franklin, engraving after Peale's copy of David Matin painting; Bigelow, 1904

Benjamin Franklin and Electrostatics

Created and Collected by Robert A. Morse

Wright Fellow 2004

2006 marks the tercentenary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth. Franklin is celebrated for many things, but his scientific work on electricity made major contributions to the progress of the field, and established his reputation as one of the leading intellects of his age.

This CD provides several resources on Franklin and his work in electricity.

A Comprehensive Collection of Franklin’s Electrical Works: The Electrical Writings of Benjamin Franklin

These files contain a comprehensive collection of Franklin’s letters and published work on his studies in electricity, in PDF format. A comprehensive table of contents indexes the letters against the two sources used and also against I. Bernard Cohen’s 1941 edition of Franklin’s electrical writing. The files can be searched, copied and printed, and are public domain. The screen version is in horizontal format for reading on screen, the print version is in vertical format for convenience in printing. To my knowledge this is the only extensive collection of Franklin’s electrical works in electronic format. Please read the introduction in the document for more information.

Figure 9 from J. Bigelow 1904: 'Works of Benjamin Franklin'; Vol. II p. 200 (public domain)

Ben Franklin As My Lab Partner — Experiments in Electrostatics

This laboratory manual has a selection of Franklin’s experiments in his own words, with side-by-side instructions on how to carry out the experiments using inexpensive materials. The introduction gives some history of electrical studies and Franklin’s role, followed by instructions for building the equipment. The remaining sections give Franklin’s experiments. Each section is illustrated with reproductions of portraits and period diagrams as well as drawings of the modern versions of the equipment. Short video clips (see below) demonstrate the construction and use of the equipment. This material may be reproduced for use in teaching with appropriate credits.

  1. Ben Franklin as my Lab Partner Part I Introduction (PDF - 3.4MB)
    1. Generator Template (PDF - 5KB)
  2. Ben Franklin as my Lab Partner Part II (PDF - 1MB)
  3. Ben Franklin as my Lab Partner Part III (PDF - 1.1MB)
  4. Ben Franklin as my Lab Partner Part IV (PDF - 2.1MB)
    1. George II Template (PDF - 353KB)
  5. Ben Franklin as my Lab Partner Part V (PDF - 75KB)
  6. Ben Franklin as my Lab Partner Part VI (PDF - 326KB)
  7. Ben Franklin as my Lab Partner Part VII (PDF - 1MB)
  8. Ben Franklin as my Lab Partner Part VIII (PDF - 389KB)
  9. Ben Franklin as my Lab Partner Part IX (PDF - 2.7MB)


The collection of video clips illustrates the construction and use of various pieces of equipment for doing Franklin’s experiments. (requires the QuickTime video player plug-in)