Lightning Rod Umbrellas or Hats … the fashion of the day in the 1770s …
|Benjamin Franklin drawing electricity|
from the sky - painted by
Benjamin West (1816)
Honestly – I could not believe what I saw and then read about – so you had to know too! Life does throw out some wonderful and weird ideas …
Benjamin Franklin (one of the Founding Fathers of the United States [1706 – 1790]) the renowned polymath had invented the lightning rod to protect wooden structures, but which did not become commonplace until 50 years after his death.
|Church with Steeple on high ground|
To back up a little (well over 250 years ago) – the highest point in villages and towns was the church steeple, and in that steeple were metallic bells that were rung to ward off storms - ?? ...
|Denny Church, Falkirk,|
Scotland, showing damage
via lightning strike
... ideal for the lightning … not so for the Church or particularly for the 103 bell ringers killed by lightning strikes per a report published in Europe in 1786 noting the 386 recorded strikes in the previous 33 years (1753).
To make the disaster complete there was a habit of storing gunpowder in the vaults of churches … a church being a sacred place - its vaults were considered the safest place to store munitions. An explosive idea …. ?!
|Brescia in northern Italy|
The clergy of the Church of St Nazaire at Brescia in northern Italy had refused to have a lightning rod installed … then in 1769 the church was struck …
... the resulting fire ignited 90,000 kg (nearly 200,000 lb) of gunpowder stored there – causing a massive explosion which destroyed one-sixth of Brescia (90 houses) and killed 3,000 people.
But as with all things it took time to accept that lightning rods were an essential protection … but then there’s the overreaction – really why this post is being written! - everything had to be grounded by a Franklin rod …
Lightning Rod Fashion came to the fore, especially in Paris … the concept was, by now, to some extent accepted practice … that the lightning bolt would strike the Franklin-designed protective device instead of the person, sending the electricity harmlessly down the metal chain to the ground.
Umbrellas for men were invented … named “le parapluie-puratonnere” literally ‘umbrella protecting against thunder’ – a misnomer, as it was intended to protect against lightning, not thunder!
|Each of the hats at the back has a silver chain|
running down to the ground
While women had special hats … a woven metal ribbon was wrapped around the hat, a silver chain was attached to the ribbon which then trailed to the ground …
This is one of those extraordinary unintended inventions arising from Benjamin Franklin’s foray into science … and especially the concept of how electricity worked …
|Title page of 1751 original edition|
I do this Founding Father of the USA an injustice … as his 86 page book on electricity went through five editions in English, three in French, one in German and one in Italian … and he received numerous awards and acknowledgements …
This phase of his life lasted less than seven years … politics was beckoning … with his influence as a newspaperman and his fame as a scientist … Franklin was an ideal candidate for office.
So did you know this part of Franklin’s life … I knew little about him … so I have learnt … but what an extraordinary fashion to be in vogue in the late 1700s – that’s the story of the fashionable lightning rod.
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