Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin on killing and cooking a turkey with electricity (1748)

Found in: The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. II Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753

The polymath Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was not only a key figure in the founding of the American republic but an inveterate inventor. He was fascinated by the new science of electricity and spent much time trying to discover its properties. In 1748 he planned a series of “experiments” to amuse himself and some friends at a picnic on the banks of the Skuylkill river. This included killing and cooking a turkey for dinner:

Food & Drink

Chagrined a little that we have been hitherto able to produce nothing in this way of use to mankind; and the hot weather coming on, when the electrical experiments are not so agreeable, it is proposed to put an end to them for this season, somewhat humorously, in a party of pleasure on the banks of the Skuylkill. Spirits, at the same time, are to be fired by a spark sent from side to side through the river, without any other conductor than the water; an experiment which we some time since performed to the amazement of many. A turkey is to be killed for our dinner by electrical shock, and roasted by the electrical jack, before a fire kindled by the electrified bottle; when the healths of all the famous electricians in England, Holland, France, and Germany are to be drank in electrified bumpers [toasting glasses], under the discharge of guns from the electrical battery.