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Who said: “The Columbia is lost; there are no survivors.”
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Thumbnail of Benjamin Franklin (source)
Benjamin Franklin
(17 Jan 1706 - 17 Apr 1790)

American statesman, scientist, inventor, diplomat, author, printer and publisher.


Benjamin Franklin - “Dangerous... to take shelter under a tree, during a thunder-gust”

Illustrated Quote - Large (800 x 600 px)

“Dangerous, therefore, to take shelter under a tree, during a thunder-gust. It has been fatal to many, both men and beasts.”
— Benjamin Franklin
Letter (29 Apr 1749)

More Benjamin Franklin quotes on science >>

Painted portrait of Benjamin Franklin, seated behind table, wearing glasses, reading a paper
Benjamin Franklin
Painting by David Martin (1767). (source)
Context of Benjamin Franklin's quote “Dangerous… to take shelter under a tree, during a thunder-gust.”

In the middle of the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin was corresponding with members of the Royal Society in England, communicating his reflections on his work with electricity. A thoughtful letter listed dozens of observations and suppositions about the behaviour of lightning, which he supposed to be a form of the same phenomenon he produced on a smaller scale when experimenting with his Leyden jars. His recipient, deeming the information too good to keep for the benefit of a few readers, decided to publish a collection of his writings in book form in 1751.

Franklin's astute insight is shown in much of what he wrote. The quote above, labelled as paragraph 44 in his letter, admonishing about the danger of being alongside a tall tree in case of a lightning strike, he explained in the previous remark:

“43. As electrified clouds pass over a country, high hills and high trees, lofty towers, spires, masts of ships, chimneys, &c. as so many prominencies and points, draw the electrical-fire, and the whole cloud discharges there.”

Franklin also understood that electricity flows better through water than an insulator:

“45. It is safer to be in the open field for another reason. When the cloaths are wet, if a flash in its way to the ground should strike your head, it will run in the water over the surface of your body; whereas, if your cloaths were dry, it would go through the body.

For which reason, he gave his opinion, it might be possible to electrocute a dry rat, but not a wet one. In his previous letter, Franklin wrote about an intended pleasure party on the banks of the Skuylkil river, proposing to repeat an experiment to fire spirits (alcohol) by a spark transmitted from one bank to the other through the water. He wrote:

“A turkey is to be killed by the electric shock, and roasted by the electrical jack, by a fire kindled by the electrified bottle; when the healths of all the famous electricians … are to be drank in electrified bumpers, under the discharge of guns from the electrical battery.”

An electrified bumper was a glass of wine carrying a charge to shock the lips.

Quotes on | Cloud | Conductor | Electricity | Lightning | Spark | Thunderbolt |


See also:
  • Science Quotes by Benjamin Franklin.
  • 17 Jan - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Franklin's birth.
  • Benjamin Franklin - context of quote “Dangerous... to take shelter under a tree, during a thunder-gust” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Benjamin Franklin.

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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