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November 27-28, 2014

November 27, 2014, the fourth Thursday of November, is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Tikalon is on holiday with the rest of the country, but I've collected some interesting Thanksgiving-related items from previous posts.[1-2]

Thanksgiving turkey

Turkey is the traditional holiday meal on Thanksgiving Day in the United States, although some people expand their menus, and their waistlines, with an entrée called turducken.

(Source image from Wikimedia Commons)

Turkey is the traditional centerpiece of this holiday dinner, and Benjamin Franklin is closely associated with turkey for several reasons. Franklin preferred the turkey to the bald eagle as the symbol of the United States. As he wrote in a letter to his daughter, Sarah Bache, on January 26, 1784,
"For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country... The Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America."[3]

Franklin was an early "Electrician," and he performed some of the first experiments with electricity after retiring from his printing business in 1745. Franklin believed that electrocuted turkeys were much more tender than otherwise prepared birds. In the summer of 1749, Franklin hosted a barbecue in which an electrocuted turkey was roasted and served. The fire was lighted electrically, and Franklin had improvised an electrically actuated motor to rotate the turkey on a spit.[4]

Franklin may have tempered his experiments with turkeys after 1750. On December 23, 1750, Franklin attempted to electrocute a turkey for his Christmas dinner. He used two large Leyden jars (a primitive air dielectric capacitor) which he described as having the capacitance of forty typical jars. He took a shock through his arms that knocked him unconscious. When he came to his senses, he felt a "violent, quick shaking of my body, which gradually remitted."[4]

Benjamin Franklin kite experiment

Franklin was numb for a while, and he was sore for a few days thereafter. Franklin communicated this accident to others who were experimenting with electricity to warn them of the dangers.[4] He went on to conduct experiments that proved that electric charge was conserved, and he invented the lightning rod after observing that sharp points more easily released and accepted charge. His experiments are summarized in his paper, "Experiments and Observations on Electricity."[5]

(An engraving of Benjamin Franklin's kite experiment, page 159 (Fig. 82) of Natural Philosophy for Common and High Schools (1881) by Le Roy C. Cooley, via Wikimedia Commons.)


  1. Thanksgiving, This Blog, November 24-25, 2011.
  2. Physicists Prefer Turkeys, This Blog, April 30, 2007.
  3. Benjamin Franklin, letter to Sarah Bache, January 26, 1784, The Library of Congress.
  4. December 23, 1750: Ben Franklin Attempts to Electrocute a Turkey, APS News vol. 15, no. 11 (December 2006).
  5. Benjamin Franklin, "Experiments and Observations on Electricity," Minutes of a Meeting of the Royal Society, June 6, 1751 (Via Google Books).

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