Electric ...
Ben Franklin

Assault on Batteries

Before Franklin started his scientific experimentation, it was thought that electricity consisted of two opposing forces. Franklin showed that electricity consisted of a "common element" which he named "electric fire." Further, electricity was "fluid" like a liquid. It passed from one body to another — however it was never destroyed. In a letter to Peter Collinson, Franklin wrote that the:

"fire only circulates. Hence have arisen some new items among us. We say B (and other Bodies alike circumstanced) are electricised positively; A negatively; Or rather B is electricised plus and A minus ... These terms we may use till philosophers give us better."

Franklin's work became the basis for the single fluid theory. When something is being charged, such as a car battery, electricity flows from a positive body, that with an excess charge, to a negative body, that with negative charge. Indeed, a car battery has plus and minus signs on its terminals.

Franklin wrote Collinson in another letter that: "I feel a Want of Terms here and doubt much whether I shall be able to make this intelligible." Not only did Franklin have to posit theories, he also had to create a new language to fit them. Some of the electrical terms which Franklin coined during his experiments include:

  • battery
  • charge
  • condensor
  • conductor
  • plus
  • minus
  • positively
  • negatively
  • armature

They are still the terms we use today.


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