How Not To Cook A Turkey

Of all the Founding Fathers, I think the most fascinating is Benjamin Franklin.  He was our first humorist, and in his day the best writer in the Colonies.  He was also an inquisitive scientist, perhaps best known for his experiments with electricity.  But recently I ran across a Ben Franklin story that I’m sure he learned a lot from, because it didn’t work.

The year was 1750, two years before his famous kite experiment with electricity.  Ben tried to cook a live turkey with a rudimentary battery, consisting of two “jars” charged with electricity.  Apparently he was trying to both kill and roast it at the same time.

It didn’t go well.  Somehow the live wire touched Ben’s hand and, as he wrote later, “thro’out my whole Body from head to foot.  (T)he flash was very great and the crack as loud as a Pistol, yet my Senses being instantly gone, I neither Saw the one nor hear the other; nor did I feel the Stroke on my hand, tho’ I afterwards found it raised a round swelling where the fire had enter’d..”

Fortunately, there was no permanent damage, although Ben did faint.  And the turkey?  Since there was an audience, I doubt it got away, although a bewildered turkey tiptoeing away from a prostrate Franklin does make an interesting visual image.

My source for this is journalist Robert Krulwich, co-host of one of my favorite radio programs, National Public Radios’ Radiolab.  He related this as his contribution to the program’s most recent newsletter (

By the way, I do know Ben Franklin was a big turkey admirer.  He thought the bird would be a fitting symbol of our country, more so even than the bald eagle.  Of course, the wild turkey of his day looked nothing like the meat-market-on-legs we’ve bred it into today.  (They can’t even fly!)

Happy Thanksgiving!


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