Ben Franklin's Kite

Q:

What did Ben Franklin's kite look like?
What materials were used on the kite and the tail?

A:

All we have to go on is a single letter which Franklin wrote to a friend. At least two artists of the day created pictures of the kite experiment. The one I am aware of is just a black-and-white illustration.

So, this is my best answer...

The design was for a square shape, flown with a tail attached to one corner. It would have looked like a small Diamond kite in the air. The sail was a large silk handkerchief. Handkerchiefs of the era were commonly white in color, perhaps with a small amount of embroidery. We have to guess at the size. However, I have seen an example of a printed cotton handkerchief of the era which was 25" by 24" in size. A pretty big hankie!

The spars were thin strips (not rods) of cedar wood. A piece of thin wire was attached to the top vertical spar tip, extending 1 foot away from the kite. When sharpened, it would be good little lightning rod!

No detail was given regarding the tail. A hemp string with some silk or cotton ties is one possibility.

Now, it is not 100% certain that Benjamin Franklin actually created the kite he described! Interestingly, I once came across a forum post where someone attempted to re-create the famous kite from authentic materials. He just couldn't get it to fly at all though. Personally, I suspect the silk he used might have been too porous (let too much air through). A little light oil rubbed into the silk might have fixed that.

A number of other individuals around the world attempted to reproduce Franklin's experiment, after his ideas became known.

For more info, try reading The Benjamin Franklin Kite which is another page on this site.

Comments for Ben Franklin's Kite

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Feb 14, 2011
I would like to see Ben Franklin's Kite experiment recreated
by: Gary Eugene Howell

I would like to see Ben Franklin's kite experiment recreated. This time however, the individual could add some high speed video cameras to capture on video the lightning striking the kite and the key tied to the line. That would be amazing! Just hope they are not holding the line when it happens.

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What's New!

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    This previously published page is a mixture of informative data and historical background. Also there is also a video of one of my own tetrahedral designs in flight!

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Wind Speeds


Light air
1-5 km/h
1-3 mph
1-3 knots
Beaufort 1

Light breeze
6–11 km/h
4–7 mph
4–6 knots
Beaufort 2    

Gentle breeze
12–19 km/h
8–12 mph
7–10 knots
Beaufort 3    

Moderate breeze
20–28 km/h
13–18 mph
11–16 knots
Beaufort 4    

Fresh breeze
29–38 km/h
19–24 mph
17–21 knots
Beaufort 5    

Strong breeze
39–49 km/h
25–31 mph
22–27 knots
Beaufort 6

High Wind
50-61 km/h
32-38 mph
28-33 knots
Beaufort 7