History of the Lightning Rod

THE UNKNOWN HISTORY OF THE LIGHTNING ROD

When Benjamin Franklin raised his kite to the storm clouds of Philadelphia in 1752, he sought insights that would soon overturn centuries of mystery surrounding that most primordial force of nature—lightning.

Unfurling from his fateful experiment was the idea for the lightning rod, a simple wire transformed into a talismanic technology that enabled humankind’s dominion over the heavens for the very first time.

THE LIGHTNING ROD WAS FIRST INVENTED BY BENJAMIN FRANKLIN IN PENNSYLVANIA IN 1755

Benjamin Franklin inventing the lighting rod
© History Oasis

When Benjamin Franklin outlined his pioneering design for the lightning rod in Pennsylvania in 1755, he set in motion a scientific revolution in understanding electricity and protecting buildings.

Drawing on his experiments with kites, Franklin hypothesized that an iron rod with a sharpened point could silently carry away the formidable electric current from a lightning strike, thereby sparing structures made of flammable materials.

Though greeted with initial skepticism, Franklin's novel proposal to tame lightning heralded ingenious applications of metal conductors and grounding wires that would soon transform lightning protection around the world.

The simplicity of his key insight contrasted sharply with the enormity of its impact over time, as Franklin's pointed rods became a ubiquitous feature guarding buildings and ships during the age when societies began to harness electricity.

THERE IS SOME EVIDENCE THAT A LIGHTNING CONDUCTOR WAS INTENTIONALLY USED IN THE LEANING TOWER OF NEVYANSK IN RUSSIA

Russia's Nevyansk Tower
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The metallic spire of Russia's Nevyansk Tower has long provoked intrigue about early innovations in lightning protection. Erected between 1721 and 1745, this angular steeple was crowned with a gilded sphere pierced by spikes, apparently grounded to the tower's frame.

While an arresting vision in hindsight, the tower's metallic finial existed decades before Franklin flew his storied kite.

This begs the question—did the Nevyansk steeple purposefully channel lightning as a precursor to Franklin's groundbreaking findings?

Tantalizing clues suggest it may have provided primitive conductive shielding from strikes.

Yet with the inventor's reasons lost to time, the spire's glinting mystery still awaits illumination by the lightning its form mimics so strikingly.

IN THE 1750S, CZECH PRIEST PROKOP DIVIŠ IS CREDITED WITH CONSTRUCTING THE FIRST GROUNDED LIGHTNING ROD

grounded lighting rod
© History Oasis

The precocious innovations of Czech priest Prokop Diviš have challenged the lightning rod's narrative, raising riveting questions still argued today.

Working in Moravia in the 1750s, Diviš erected a pole aimed to dispel thunderclouds by dispensing static charge, grounded through a primitive earth connection.

Though inspired by his own electrical theories rather than Franklin's kite, intriguing links bind Diviš's aspirational device to later protectors.

EARLY LIGHTNING RODS IN 18TH CENTURY EUROPE WERE OFTEN DECORATED WITH GLASS BALLS

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Among the first lightning rods mounted across Europe's storm-prone cities, those regal spires came crowned with ornamental glass balls that bespoke the wonder of having bridled heaven's fire.

Perched at the apex where aerially channels met, these ardent spheres would shatter if struck, leaving shards scattered below as proof of electricity's mysterious visitation.

Beyond signaling lightning's wrath, the fragile globe's beauty echoed philosophers’ celestial musings, rendered in glistening form.  

Though devoid of function, through style alone each radiant orb epitomized lightning rods' triumph in grasping that primal spark once called divine, now grasped by humanity's outstretched wits.

So atop their soaring metallic stalks, these glittering tokens transformed knowledge into art, transcribing lightning's glory into miniatures too perfect to have endured this awesome force save as offering.

IN THE UNITED STATES IN THE LATE 18TH CENTURY, POINTED LIGHTNING ROD CONDUCTORS WERE PROMOTED BY BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

lighting rod on a ship
© History Oasis

As Franklin's famed lightning rods swept America, their tapered shape ignited fiery debate on distant shores.

British innovators like Thomson and Snow insisted blunted conductors surpassed pointed ones in drawing the electrical flow.

Transatlantic letters flew disputing spear-tipped poles' merits, though Yankee buildings sprouted such Franklin spires regardless.

From schoolhouses to statehouses, early American structures proudly bore the namesake conductor of their legendary Founder who snatched fire from the sky.

Yet the Atlantic's brightest minds clashed in journals and societies over whether streamers gathered best around his elegantly sharp rods or the ball-tipped style Britain endorsed.

So the quintessential shape of man's dominion over storms grew disputed between Benjamin's pointed pinnacle and the round-topped British alternative, even as Franklin's rods spread across the new Republic he prized.

Not until two centuries passed did science finally weigh the evidence behind this battle of competing lightning technologies. But through those decades of strife, Americans proudly hailed the skyward-aimed style Franklin's genius first inspired.

LIGHTNING ROD SYSTEMS & STANDARDS FOR INSTALLATION WERE GRADUALLY INTRODUCED AND IMPROVED

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As lightning rods evolved from Franklin's era into the 1800s, scientists and statesmen shepherded the technology from eccentric origins toward widespread adoption.

Seeking to shield cathedrals and libraries from fire, visionaries refined early ideas for grounding channels. Regulations spread requiring rods to guard powder stores and arsenals against errant strikes.

Admiralty Lord Kelvin pioneered standards for the British fleet, sparing sailors from explosions, while Russia rigorously equipped naval ships after witnessing lightning's wrath at sea.

As metals and conduction mastery improved, engineers vied to perfect safe passage for lightning's path to earth.

With civic structures and ship design transformed by conductors during Victoria's reign, rods lined from Chicago's bridges to London's towers by century's close.

Once a novelty that statesmen scorned, electrical grounding was now indispensable to commerce and governance alike.

Though the orchestra of experts perfecting Franklin's legacy went overlooked, their collected contributions composed a silent anthem of progress, raising cities that storm nor fire need to undermine.

COLLECTION

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