“Some people are weather-wise, and most are otherwise.”
– Benjamin Franklin
I have a thing for Benjamin Franklin. I mean, I’ve always been drawn to older men, but I admit, 262 years is a bit much! His biting wit, helpful inventions, that humble, sharing spirit of his… he had me at mullet and bifocals! Top it all off with being America’s first “Storm Chaser” and having a common-law wife who was all the while legally married to another man… Whew! Ole Ben was a modern day reality show star in the making – “Real Illegitimate Husbands of Philadelphia” – Yes!
Luckily for all of us, Ben Franklin was spared from appearing on Bravo and instead spent his 84 years (1706-1790) observing, discovering, inventing and writing; with weather and meteorology being among his greatest passions. Franklin’s observations about how and why storm systems move the way they do, and his theories about wind direction around low and high pressure systems, lead to great advancements in storm prediction and forecasting.
Franklin also observed, and first mapped the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean, off the east coast of the United States. Mapping this very warm, extremely powerful current of water has had an immeasurable impact on our country’s shipping industry. (The Gulf Stream transports nearly 4 billion cubic feet of water per second, more than all of the world’s rivers combined!) And again, Franklin’s findings went on to help meteorologists understand the Gulf Stream’s impacts on weather patterns, fog development and the often rapid intensification of hurricanes as they approach the east coast.
Along with bifocals, the Franklin Stove (the first version of what became the modern fireplace) and swim fins, another of Ben Franklin’s helpful and practical inventions was the lightning rod. The rod system is an excellent conductor of electricity and keeps damaging heat from lightning away from a building. Of all of Franklin’s inventions, the lightning rod is my personal favorite. Not because I live in a very tall building or in a barn, but because they’re pretty. The rod itself is very simple and yet, over the years, it became an eye-catching focal point of decoration and pride when homeowners started adorning them with brightly colored blown-glass balls.
If a lighting strike did make contact, the homeowner would know because the ball would be missing, busted or cracked, so the globes did serve a purpose in that way, but the primary reason behind them was just to brighten up the joint. I love that! The balls also let passersby know that a family had enough disposable income to spruce up their lightning rod!
“What do you think, we’re poor?? Sheesh…. does a shiny glass ball on top of this crumbling barn say ‘poor’ to you??”
I own an antique lightning rod with a sky blue blown-glass ball. It was the inspiration for some of my earliest jewelry designs. Now a few years in, I have a couple of WeatherVain pieces inspired by Franklin’s decorated lightning rods, some made from the ribs of salvaged umbrellas.
I am thankful for the life of Ben Franklin, one of our country’s first scientists. I’m appreciative of his humor and his willingness to share so many of his innovative ideas about arts, science and education. I also really like colorful, shiny things and the challenge of doing what maybe I once thought impossible… like catching lightning in a bottle, or in a pair of earrings.