Ben Franklin’s Other Great Electrical Discovery: Turkey Tenderization

The pioneering inventor nearly killed himself in pursuit of a practical use for electricity

6 min read
Photo: American Philosophical Society
Ben’s Battery: In 1746, Benjamin Franklin and several colleagues began a series of experiments to better understand the nature of electricity. Their studies included electric batteries like this one, which featured 35 Leyden jars that stored electric charge.
Photo: American Philosophical Society

Parlor tricks based on electricity were all the rage in mid-18th-century Europe. One of the most famous demonstrations, popularized by the electricity pioneer Stephen Gray, was the “Flying Boy" [PDF], which featured a young boy suspended from the ceiling by silk ropes. Thus insulated from the ground, he was subjected to an electrical charge and then was able to do apparent magic, such as turning the pages of a book just by passing his hands over them. The grand finale had a noninsulated audience member touch the boy's nose to create a spark and shock. History is silent on how the boy felt about this painful turn of events.

U.S. founding father Benjamin Franklin wanted to understand the phenomenon behind these clever tricks. Along with Ebenezer Kinnersley, Thomas Hopkinson, and Philip Syng Jr., he undertook a systematic investigation into electricity. Peter Collinson, a fellow of the Royal Society, in London, provided some of their instruments.

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How the Graphical User Interface Was Invented

Three decades of UI research came together in the mice, windows, and icons used today

18 min read
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Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum
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Mice, windows, icons, and menus: these are the ingredients of computer interfaces designed to be easy to grasp, simplicity itself to use, and straightforward to describe. The mouse is a pointer. Windows divide up the screen. Icons symbolize application programs and data. Menus list choices of action.

But the development of today’s graphical user interface was anything but simple. It took some 30 years of effort by engineers and computer scientists in universities, government laboratories, and corporate research groups, piggybacking on each other’s work, trying new ideas, repeating each other’s mistakes.

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