Benjamin Franklin, static electricity and "coup de foudre"

Eripuit coelo fulmen sceptrumque tyrannis.
He snatched the lightening from the sky and the sceptre from tyrants.

--Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot's famous quotation describing Benjamin Franklin

Please ignore the French "word of the day" to the right of this post. Instead, let's talk about coup de foudre, which literally means a bolt of lighting. The more commonly used figurative meaning is love at first sight.

Example: Laying her eyes on Stephane for the first time, Mary Kay experienced a coup de foudre

[The above would be Stephane's version of how we met. My version is a bit longer and better shared over a glass of wine. Let's just say that it more accurately involved a beach in Geneva, a volleyball and a Lucky Luke comic book -- not a coup de foudre.]

Machine that produces static electricity at the Musee des Arts et Metiers. 

Stephane and I would have, however, experienced a coup de foudre if we had wet our lips before one of us placed a hand on the brass globe on this machine that generates static electricity and then leaned towards each other for a kiss. An electrical arc passing between our lips would have created a shocking experience. The French people got such a jolt out of experimenting with static electricity in the 1770s that coup de foudre became an integral part of their language.

And who had a coup de foudre for Benjamin Franklin? The French people certainly did and I developed a positive attraction to the American patriot and inventor who "snatched lightening from the sky" after hearing about the experiments that Franklin conducted with the lightening rod while living at 64-70 Rue Raynouard in Passy (16th arrondissement). Feeling charged with energy, I decided that I needed to visit the Musée des Arts et Métiers and learn more about the history of electricity. In a time when we think nothing of flipping on a light switch or a laptop, it's fascinating that Franklin had to create an entirely new vocabulary consisting of words such as battery, charge, condensor, conductor, plus, minus, positively, negatively and armature to discuss his discoveries.

The Musée des Arts et Métiers, which is where I saw the machine that produces static electricity and learned about the origin of coup de foudre, will be featured in future posts because it's a wonderfully entertaining place to spend a couple of hours on a dreary afternoon. With over 5,000 items on display and 75,000 items in their collection, we were pleased to join the free, two hour guided visit in French to see some of the highlights. We're already planning a return visit to spend more time exploring the museum on our own.  

If you know a scientist, engineer, photographer, child, teen or anyone with a curious mind, one of the best gifts that you could give them would be a morning or an afternoon at this high quality museum of science and industry in Paris. It truly is a "positive" experience!

60 Rue Reaumur
75003 Paris

While trying to confirm the etymological origin of coup de foudre, I came across this fun YouTube video.


  1. The video is pure French silliness, honestly, almost unwatchable. Monty Python or Benny Hill would have made it raunchier and the Americans would have reversed the roles.

    Stephane has a thing for comic books eh? Tin Tin and Lucky Luke, but I don't know Lucky Luke.

    And I've always appreciated Dr Franklin after living in Philadelphia's Olde City for many years. I appreciate it even more now that I'm away. He was a true Renaissance man.

  2. Sorry, Joseph - the video really is "silly". That's the first adjective that I used and then changed it to "fun". I should have stuck with "silly" as a warning. The end was the best bit because I liked how quickly the man went from "coup de foudre" to taking the woman's whistle back because she didn't use the pedestrian crossing.

    Yes, Stephane did have a thing for comic books. Lucky Luke was (is?) his favorite. It's a Belgian comics series about an American cowboy and the Wild West.

    It's interesting how often Benjamin Franklin's name comes up in Paris. I don't remember hearing about him as much in the USA, but then I never lived in Philadelphia.

  3. What a neat museum! My husband would love it and even though I don't have a very scientific mind, I think I would, too.

    As a kid, I always thought Benjamin Franklin was one of the most fascinating American figures. I was interested in his many accomplishments, even the more mundane ones, like the invention of bifocals. And I love his immortal quote, "Time is money." And he's on the $100, which is my favorite denomination. :)

    Great post, as always. And your "how we met" story sounds very intriguing. :)


  4. nycgirl, I don't have a scientific mind but I really enjoyed the museum. There's something for everyone. There were a couple of display cases with lots of information about the Statue of Liberty that would be of particular interest to someone from NYC. Our guide spent at least 10 minutes talking about it and the French group was very attentive.

    When I was reading about Franklin for this post, I saw that he only started inventing things after he turned 40. I wonder if he invented the bifocals out of necessity. I think it would have been great, albeit intimidating, to talk with him.

  5. I love the electricity machine in your museum. Really love that so much.


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