Courtesy of the Franklin Institute Science Museum
Though a ubiquitous item on many American homes, farms, churches and municipal buildings since the late 18th century, these antique lightning rods have only piqued the serious interest of collectors since the mid-1990s. The story of the introduction of lightning rods into American homes is a reflection of Franklin’s own eclectic passions and pursuits; merging science, industrial artistry and unbridled free market commerce.
Lightning rods were manufactured by hundreds of regional companies across the country, with a spike of interest and sales in the years immediately preceding the Great Depression. The rods and the brightly colored and intricately detailed glass balls and other decorative items that were used to adorn them, were sold by door-to-door salesmen, traveling in the early years by horse- drawn wagons. Many of these fiercely competitive showmen took the self-appointed title of "Professor" to add scientific authenticity to their pitch, positioning the lightning rods as a valuable instrument of protection from the threat of lightning strikes and the fires they created.
“It seems only fitting that our museum, founded on the unquenchable scientific spirit of Benjamin Franklin, would be the first venue to exhibit some of the finest selections from this collection,” explains Dennis Wint, President and CEO of the Franklin Institute. “These items are an expression of America’s rich past, the children, if you will, of one of Franklin’s own brightest and most valuable inventions.”
Read more about Joshua Sapan's Lightning Rod Collection