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Rare Collections Spotlight

It should come as no surprise that the most popular and prolific author represented in the Rare Collections of the State Library is our “first librarian,” Benjamin Franklin.  A quick survey of the Collection reveals some twenty individual works by Franklin.  But, he was probably best known internationally for his work on electricity. 

Experiments and Observations on Electricity: Made in Philadelphia in America.

The Experiments and Observations on Electricity is actually a collection of letters on the subject between Franklin and his friend London Quaker merchant Peter Collinson.  Realizing the public’s fascination with the phenomenon of electricity, Collinson had the letters published as a small book in London in 1751.  A French edition followed the very next year.  Franklin first became interested in electricity, after witnessing Archibald Spencer’s “magic demonstrations” in Boston and Philadelphia in 1743 and 1744.  After Franklin’s retirement from business in 1746, he turned his attention to electrical experiments, and assembled a team of researchers, who included Ebenezer Kinnserley, Thomas Hopkinson and Philip Syng.  To help provide the scientific equipment necessary, Collinson donated a Leyden jar (i.e. a primitive battery), while Thomas Penn provided “a complete electrical system” in 1747, which probably included an electricity generating machine.  The new equipment gave Franklin everything he needed to experiment with the creation and storage of electricity.

To find out more about Benjamin Franklin’s Experiments and Observations on Electricity, or to see his other original works, contact Rare Books Librarian Iren Snavely for an appointment.  Telephone: (717) 783-5982 or email: irsnavely@pa.gov