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All metals and water are good conductors. Other bodies may become conductors by having some quantity of water in them, as wood and other materials used in building ; but, not having much water in them, they are not good conductors, and, therefore, are often damaged in the operation.
Glass, wax, silk, wool, hair, feathers, and even wood, perfectly dry, are non-conductors : that is, they resist instead of facilitating the passage of this subtile fluid.
When this fluid has an opportunity of passing through two conductors, one good and sufficient, as of metal, the other not so good, it passes in the best, and will follow it in any direction.
The distance at which a body charged with this fluid will discharge itself suddenly, striking through the air into another body that is not charged or not so highly charged, is different according to the quantity of the Auid, the dimensions and form of the bodies themselves, and the state of the air between them. This distance, whatever it happens to be, between any two bodies, is called the striking distance, as, till they come within that distance of each other, no stroke will be made.
The clouds have often more of this fluid, in proportion, than the earth; in which case, as soon as they come near enough (that is, within the striking distance) or meet with a conductor, the fluid quits them and strikes into the earth. A cloud fully charged with this fluid, if so high as to be beyond the striking distance from the earth, passés quietly without making noise or giving light, unless it meets with other clouds that have less.
Tall trees and lofty buildings, as the towers and spires of churches, become sometimes conductors between the clouds and the earth; but, not being good ones, that is, not conveying the fluid freely, they are often damaged.
Buildings that have their roofs covered with lead or other metal, the spouts of metal continued from the roof into the ground to carry off the water, are never hurt by lightning, as, whenever it falls on such a building, it passes in the metals and not in the walls.
When other buildings happen to be within the striking distance from such clouds, the fluid passes in the walls, whether of wood, brick, or stone, quitting the walls only when it can find better conductors near them, as metal rods, bolts, and hinges of windows or doors, gilding on wainscot or frames of pictures, the silvering on the backs of lookingglasses, the wires for bells, and the bodies of animals, as containing watery fluids. And, in passing through the house, it follows the direction of these conductors, taking as many in its way as can assist it in its passage, whether in a straight or crooked line, leaping from one to the other, if not far distant from each other, only rending the wall in the spaces where these partial good conductors are too distant from each other.
An iron rod being placed on the outside of a building, from the highest part continued down irto the moist earth in any direction, straight or crooked, following the form of the roof or parts of the building, will receive the lightning at the upper end, attracting it so as to prevent its striking any other part, and affording it a good conveyance into the earth, will prevent its damaging any part of the building.
A small quantity of metal is found able to conduct a great quantity of this fluid. A wire no tig. ger than a goosequill has been known to conduct (with safety to the building as far as the wire was continued) a quantity of lightning that did prodigious damage both above and below it; and probably larger rods are not necessary, though it is common in America to make them of half an inch, some of three quarters or an inch diameter.
The rod may be fastened to the wall, chimney, VOL. II.--20
&c., with staples of iron. The lightning will not leave the rod (a good conductor) through those staples. It would rather, if any were in the walls, pass out of it into the rod, to get more readily by that conductor into the earth.
If the building be very large and extensive, two or more rods may be placed at different parts, for greater security
Small ragged parts of clouds, suspended in the air between the great body of clouds and the earth (like leaf gold in electrical experiments) often serve as partial conductors for the lightning, which proceeds from one of them to another, and by their help comes within the striking distance to the earth or a building. It therefore strikes through those conductors a building that would otherwise be out of the striking distance.
Long sharp points communicating with the earth, and presented to such parts of clouds, drawing silently from them the fluid they are charged with, they are then attracted to the cloud, and may leave the distance so great as to be beyond the reach of striking.
It is therefore that we elevate the upper end of the rod six or eight feet above the highest part of the building, tapering it gradually to a fine sharp point, which is gilt to prevent its rusting.
Thus the pointed rod either prevents the stroke from the cloud, or, if a stroke is made, conducts it to the earth with safety to the building.
The lower end of the rod should enter the earth so deep as to come at the moist part, perhaps two or three feet; and if bent when under the surface so as to go in a horizontal line six or eight feet from the wall, and then bent again downward three or four feet, it will prevent damage to any of the stones of the foundation.
A person apprehensive of danger from lightning, happening during the time of thunder to be in a
house not so secured, will do well to avoid sitting near the chimney, near a looking-glass, or any gilt pictures or wainscot; the safest place is the middle of the room (so it be not under a metal lustre suspended by a chain), sitting on one chair and laying the feet up in another. It is still safer to bring two or three mattresses or beds into the middle of the room, and, folding them up double, place the chair apon them; for they not being so good conductors as the walls, the lightning will not choose an interrupted course through the air of the room and the bedding, when it can go through a continued better conductor, the wall. But where it can be had, a hammock or swinging bed, suspended by silk cords equally distant from the walls on every side, and from the ceiling and floor above and below, affords the safest situation a person can have in any room whatever; and what, indeed, may be deemed quite free from danger of any stroke by lightning.
B. FRANKLIN. Paris, September, 1767.
To Peter Collinson, London.
Philadelphia, October 16, 1752. As frequent mention is made in public papers from Europe of the success of the Philadelphia experiment for drawing the electric fire from clouds by means of pointed rods of iron erected on high buildings, &c., it may be agreeable to the curious to be informed that the same experiment has succeeded in Philadelphia, though made in a different and more easy manner, which is as follows:
Make a small cross of two light strips of cedar, the arms so long as to reach to the four corners of a large thin silk handkerchief when extended; tie the corners of the handkerchief to the extremities
of the cross, so you have the body of a kite, which, being properly accommodated with a tail, loop, and string, will rise in the air like those made of paper; but this, being of silk, is fitter to bear the wet and wind of a thunder-gust without tearing. To the top of the upright stick of the cross is to be fixed a very sharp-pointed wire, rising a foot or more above the wood. To the end of the twine next the hand is to be tied a silk riband, and where the silk and twine join, a key may be fastened. This kite is to be raised when a thunder-gust appears to be coming on, and the person who holds the string must stand within a door or window, or under some cover, so that the silk riband may not be wet; and care must be taken that the twine does not touch the frame of the door or window. As soon as any of the thunder-clouds come over the kite, the pointed wire will draw the electric fire from them, and the kite, with all the twine, will be electrified, and the loose filaments of the twine will stand out every way, and be attracted by an approaching finger. And when the rain has wetted the kite and twine, so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it stream out plentifully from the key on the approach of your knuckle. At this key the vial may be charged ; and from electric fire thus obtained, spirits may be kindled, and all the other electric experiments be performed, which are usually done by the help of a rubbed glass globe or tube, and thereby the sameness of the electric matter with that of lightning completely demonstrated.
Physical and Meteorological Observations, Conjectures, and Sup
positions.—Read at the Royal Society, June 3, 1756. The particles of air are kept at a distance from each other by their mutual repulsion