The History of Lightning Protection

Most of the time when we tell a new client unfamiliar with commercial construction that we do lightning protection, we get something like, “What? Lighting protection? Why do lights need protection?” Truth is, lightning protection (yes, with two ‘n’s. Yes, like the stuff in the sky.) is not at the top of most people’s heads, but everyone learned about the history of lightning protection in school.

The Story of Ben Franklin and the Kite

This is when the light bulb goes off in people’s heads, or the lightning bolt, if you will. The story goes a little like this:

Benjamin Franklin liked to study storms, and he thought lightning was static electricity. To test out his little theory, he climbed to the top of a hill during a thunderstorm and flew a kite with a key on the end. He did this to attract the lightning to prove it was electricity. Eventually, he was struck by lightning and felt that familiar electrical shock from his routine tinkering with electricity.

Everyone knows how that story goes. That’s when the remember, and understand, exactly what we do at BASE Lightning Protection here in Atlanta and the rest of the Southeast.

The Backstory of the History of Lightning Protection

Benjamin Franklin was a tinkerer. He liked to learn and build things and test them. He is known as a Founding Father, the founder of the first fire station, the Father of Electricity, and an avid inventor. Innovation was his hobby that turned into his profession. In 1747, Franklin took particular interest in electricity and started working on several experiments. By 1749, he predicted that lightning was static electricity. (Spoiler, he was right.)

In the summer of 1952, he was in the process of creating the first lightning protection system. He used the tall, sharp steeple as the lightning rod, now called an air terminal, to protect the Christ Church in Philidelphia, Pennsylvania. His idea was that a sharp, pointed piece of iron could pull the electricity out of the cloud before lightning struck and started an electrical fire.

In June, he became too impatient with the slow building process of the church. He knew a front was coming in that was sure to bring storms. He tied a metal key to a kite and went to the top of a hill. Sure enough, lightning struck the kite and traveled through him to the ground. He finally proved lightning was electricity.

Still today, people aren’t quite sure how he survived the strike. People every year get struck by lightning and occasionally one will survive, but with the amount of charge going through a body, it isn’t likely. One common theory is that the storm had already died down so the lightning strike wasn’t as strong as it was during the peak of the storm.

We hope this refreshed your memory, if not enlightened you, about the history of lightning protection. Click this link to see the even more in-depth story covered by the Franklin Institute.

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