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In the early 1750’s Franklin turned to the study of electricity. He thought electricity and lightning were the same thing and he wanted to prove it. He further hypothesized that metal objects could be used to draw lightning in order to protect homes from being hit.
He needed something to get close enough to the clouds to attract the lightning. Philadelphia where he lived had no hills or tall buildings. Franklin (supposedly) performed his famous “a kite and a key” experiment, which verified the nature of electricity and lightning. A few other scientists in Europe (who did their own experiments) proved that lightning and electricity were the same thing.
He invented the lightning rod, (his most important invention) which is made of metal and is attached to the highest point on a house. The lightning hit the rod instead of the house, and the electrical current from the lightning goes into the ground and leaves the house undamaged. Packing up to 100 million volts of electricity, a bolt of lightning has the power to rip through roofs, explode walls of brick and concrete and ignite deadly fires. The Empire State Building is struck by lightning about 100 times every year. But it doesn’t suffer any damage. Benjamin Franklin’s invention is still protecting buildings all over the world.
Thunderstorms occur virtually everywhere and put any building at risk. Lightning routinely strikes in low lying areas of the world, as well as in higher elevations which is why lightning is considered the weather hazard “most commonly experienced by most people in the world”.
Nothing can prevent lightning from striking. Lightning will strike a location whether there is lightning protection in place or not. Lightning protection systems and strike termination devices (rods) simply route it harmlessly into the earth, thus discharging the dangerous electrical event. (Floro Mercene)