The Lightning Rod
W.J. Rayment / -- Benjamin Franklin was fascinated by electricity. In the course of his experiments he came to the conclusion that lightning was, in fact, nothing more than electricity. He had found that electricity will seemingly flow through metal and along a wire. He used these deductions to invent the lightening rod.Although Franklin was a world class scientist and had many inventions (including the Franklin Stove), none proved as controversial as the lightening rod. And Philip Dray in his book, "Stealing God's Thunder", uses this as a metaphor for Franklin and the American Revolution.
The problem with the lightening rod, for many, was that it seemed a lot like interfering with the will of God. In 1752 Franklin installed lightning rods at the Pennsylvania State House and the Pennsylvania Academy. In 1753 he would explain his invention in his "Poor Richard's Almanac".
Some even opposed the lightning rod on a "scientific" basis, saying that this method of drawing off electricity by an iron rod and leading it into the ground was destabilizing the entire region. In 1755 an Earthquake hit New England and many attributed it to the lightning rod. In spite of the fear, lightening rods would become generally accepted over the course of the 19th century. In Europe they were found to be quite useful on buildings that stored gunpowder. A lightening strike on a magazine generally had quite spectacular effects.
To this day the lightening rod itself is used as a metaphor for a person or a thing that invites controversy. Franklin made only one mistake with his lightning rod. It seems that the pointed rod actually attracts lightning. Tesla would later improve the rod by giving it a blunt end, making a strike less likely, but still drawing off the charge.
More Book Reviews