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Ben Franklin Installed New Hampshire Lightning Rod in 1763

1763 Warner House lightning Rod still in use todayHISTORY MATTERS


Did Benjamin Franklin conduct lightning rod installation at the ancient Warner House in Portsmouth, NH while serving as Deputy Postmaster to King George III in 1763? Signs point to YES. But will Portsmouth restore damaged painting that honors the event? The jury is still out. (click title to read more) 


As Portsmouth legends go, this one has juice. It is entirely possible that the lightning rod atop the ancient brick Warner House was installed under the direction of Benjamin Franklin, America's most inventive founding father. The historic record, so far, is mute on the subject, but the circumstantial evidence is charged with possibility.  

Benjamin was born in Boston in 1706 to Puritan parents. His father, Josiah, made soap and candles. His mother, Abiah, raised Benjamin, his five older brothers, and his six sisters. Even before the American Revolution, Franklin was well known as a printer, writer, inventor, ambassador, and postmaster.   


West side of Warner House in Portsmouth, NH


Enlightening research

Franklin's first invention was a set of wooden swimming fins. Besides his famous stove design, bifocals, and printing press, he is credited with creating the first flexible catheter, with publishing early political cartoons, and with charting the Gulf Stream. He created the first volunteer fire department in his adopted city of Philadelphia, established the nation's first lending library, and launched a public university.

Ben Franklin's interest in "electrical fire" began in the mid-1740s.  He described a jolting close encounter with electrical current as "...a universal blow throughout my whole body from head to foot, which seemed within as well as without; after which the first thing I took notice of was a violent quick shaking of my body."


Within a few years, already wealthy and "retired" at age 42, he began publishing his scientific findings. In 1852 Franklin risked his life in the famous kite-and-key experiment in order to demonstrate that lightning and electricity were one in the same. The following year he published "How to Secure Houses, etc. from Lightning" in his Poor Richards Almanack. His new device, Franklin wrote, could "secure us from that most sudden and terrible mischief!"

He was allowed to install experimental lightning rods on key Philadelphia buildings. The invention was both simple and practical. Buildings were getting taller in the mid-18th century. Church spires and ship masts and chimneys were vulnerable to 50,000-degree bolts of lightning. Initially Franklin thought that a needle-like metal rod with a copper tip, placed above a roof, tree, or mast, would drawn the lightning from nearby clouds. If "grounded" to the earth by a brass wire, the fearsome fiery charge could be conducted harmlessly from the clouds to the earth.

Franklin Rods, technically, did not pull lightning out of the clouds, rendering storms harmless. But they did ionize the surrounding air, effectively intercepting a lightning strike. They channeled the current harmlessly into the ground, saving countless structures from destruction.



Critics argued that, by drawing so much lightning into the ground, Franklin's invention caused the great earthquake of 1755. Others claimed that his metal rods burned down hundreds of wooden houses. But at Harvard and Yale, in Europe and around the world, the inventor was hailed as a genius for the practical application of his dogged research.  By 1760, having proved that electricity was everywhere, his "lightning attractor" was widely used, and the accompanying science was widely understood. 





Lightning rod installed by Ben Franklin in 1763 in Portsmouth, NH

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