Experimentations and Observations on Electricity (1754)

With the 18th century came many advances in understanding the world we inhabit. Around the time James Cook began to circumnavigate the southern hemisphere, one notable man, Benjamin Franklin, helped spark humanities interest in Electricity. Franklin’s findings were not procured for scientific research, like Cooks,  but rather derived solely from his fascination with the subject as a hobby. Franklin pioneered our modern understanding of electricity with his book, Experiments and Observations on Electricity, which went through several editions through the mid to late 18th century. The one featured here is part one of the second edition, published in 1754 by Benjamin Franklin and Peter Collinson, and printed by D. Henry and R. Cave. 

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin’s accomplishments are not limited to only electricity. His discoveries on lightning and electricity were bookended by a lucrative newspaper career prior to his experiments and an influential political career afterwards. Seeing the true scope of his legacy, it is understandable how such a unique mind progressed our understanding of electricity. His notoriety on the subject stemmed from Experiments and Observations on Electricity, a publication of Franklin’s personal correspondence with Englishman Peter Collinson on electricity. In these letters, Franklin explained his findings related to electric charges and his belief in a connection between electricity and lightning. The culmination of his proceedings resulted in the ever famous “kite experiment,” in which he used a lightning rod to extract electricity from a lightning bolt. Regardless of the controversy surrounding his personal involvement in this experiment, Franklin’s findings serve as the basis of the field of electricity to this day. The several published pamphlets that he made to be finalized as New Experiments and Observations on Electricity spread rapidly across Britain and Europe through several famous scientists. Amazingly, if not for Peter Collinson, Franklin’s work may never have been appreciated.

Publication Information

Though Franklin copied the letters he sent to Peter Collinson and shared them with his colleagues, it was Collinson himself that brought Franklin into the spotlight. In 1751 he published the letters in an 86 page pamphlet extravagantly titled Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America, by Mr. Benjamin Franklin, and Communicated in several Letters to Mr. P. Collinson, of London, F.R.S.. From the 86 page pamphlet in 1751, Experiments and Observations was expanded upon three times leading to a fourth edition in 1774, totaling 496 pages. Benjamin Franklin only made slight adjustments to the first three editions, but was able to heavily supervise revision of the 4th edition. He also saw fit to add scientific articles unrelated to his experiments in the fourth edition which contributed to its extended length.Further editions of this book have been published since, but the 4th edition was the last edition Franklin had a hand in publicizing. Directly following his original 86 page pamphlet in 1753, Franklin was awarded the Copley medal by the Royal Society of London for the work he did with electricity, an honor equivalent to the modern day Nobel prize. 

The book, displayed below, is part of the second edition published in 1754, one that solely focused on his experiments with electricity and totaled 154 pages. To see more on scientific research in the 18th century, including Captain Cook’s voyage to the South Pole, see our Vancouver colleagues’ post here.

To see the online link from the University of Colorado at Boulder click here.


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