How Benjamin Franklin's Revolutionary Lightning Rod Changed Home Electrical Systems Forever (But People Hated It)

Benjamin Franklin was a true Renaissance man. Inventor, scientist, statesman, author - Franklin wore many hats. But perhaps his most revolutionary invention was the lightning rod.

As I researched the history of the lightning rod, I was fascinated to learn how much resistance there was to this seemingly simple device that has saved countless lives and property over the last 250+ years. In this article, I will explore the origins of Franklin's invention, how it works, the opposition it faced, and its long-lasting impact on home electrical systems.

Franklin's Fascination With Electricity

Franklin had long been intrigued by the wonders of electricity. In his experiments with static electricity in the 1740s and 50s, he coined terms like 'positive' and 'negative' charge. He also discovered that lightning was in fact electricity when he flew his iconic kite in a thunderstorm in 1752.

After his kite experiment confirmed his hypothesis, Franklin proclaimed:

"Let the experiment be made."

These words would launch Franklin's quest to find a practical use for the newfound knowledge that lightning was electricity.

Developing the Lightning Rod

Franklin theorized that a pointed iron rod could be affixed to the top of a building to attract the electrical charge from lightning and guide it safely into the ground.

To test his theory, he undertook an experiment in Philadelphia in 1752. Franklin erected a 40-foot iron rod atop a church steeple during a thunderstorm. He tied a bell to the rod and positioned an observer in the steeple to alert him if the bell rang.

Sure enough, when lightning struck, the observer saw sparks emitting from the rod and heard the bell ring! Franklin had proven that his lightning rod worked.

How the Lightning Rod Works

Franklin's lightning rod was simple but brilliant. Here's a quick overview of how it works:

So in essence, the lightning rod provides a directed path for the lightning strike to follow, diverting it away from a structure.

Vehement Opposition to the Lightning Rod

Given how obviously useful Franklin's lightning rod was, you'd think it would have been universally embraced. But quite the opposite happened. Many prominent people denounced it vehemently, even attributing it to Satan himself!

The opposition came from several quarters:

Slowly but surely though, the utility of lightning rods overcame the unfounded fears. As empirical evidence mounted that they prevented destruction, more buildings added rods.

Within Franklin's own lifetime, lightning rods became commonplace. He was heartened to see scientists in Europe like Joseph Priestley validate his work and spread the adoption of rods too.

Long-Term Home Electrical Impact

Of course, preventing building fires was just the beginning of the lightning rod's influence. Its invention paved the way for major advancements in delivering electricity safely into homes and businesses.

Here are some key long-term impacts:

So while Franklin sought only to disarm deadly lightning from buildings, the humble rod ended up being seminal to modern electricity delivery and usage.

Lightning Rods Save Lives

In closing, I'm awestruck by how a simple invention - a piece of pointed metal on a wire - could engender such vitriol. But Franklin's perseverance gave us a life-saving tool we now take for granted.

Though aesthetically unattractive, the rods silently resting atop our homes are heroes. Since Franklin's first installation, lightning rods have prevented untold deaths and property destruction for over 250 years and counting. A small price to pay for their protective power!

Franklin was right - let the experiment be made. Science and data triumph over unfounded fears. Our homes are safer for it.