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Benjamin Franklin and the Lightning Rod

October 31, 2016

 Glasgow is known as a ‘Dear Green Place’ and that’s absolutely justifiable. It has a great variety of parks and forests. One of the most popular parks is to the south of the city’s historical centre – namely, Glasgow Green, and is the oldest public space in the United Kingdom! No wonder it is a place of pilgrimage for tourists from all over the world, and a beloved park of the Glaswegians themselves as well. You will visit it on our Must See Glasgow Tour.

One can spot the Green just by seeing its famous Nelson’s obelisk from the distance – something of which I’ll write about in a future post because it has a whole big story behind it. But for now what’s interesting to explore is its lightning rod.

The rod appeared after a lightning had struck the monument in August 1810 causing considerable damage to it, which is still visible.

It is believed that the lightning rod was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1749. Being a prominent leader of the War of Independence of the United States, Franklin was the only person who signed all three most important historical documents underlying the foundation of the independent state - United States Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and the Treaty of Paris 1783. He was also the first American to become a foreign member of the Saint-Petersburg Academy of Science that had been founded by Peter the Great in 1724.

From the mid 1750s to the mid 70s Benjamin Franklin spent much time in London, being officially on a political mission but exploring the sciences as well. He came to Scotland twice, in 1759 and 1771, visiting a philosopher and historian David Hume in Edinburgh, and John Anderson – a Professor of Natural Philosophy in Glasgow.

Anderson gave him a tour of Glasgow College in 1771, showing lecture halls and laboratories. It’s likely that they discussed the erection of a lightning rod on the College building for protection and experiments, which was installed the following year in 1772 and it was the first of its kind in Glasgow!

Franklin’s creation of the University of Pennsylvania focused on a practical and useful form of education. This inspired John Anderson to set up classes for the working people (both men and women!) and he left instructions in his will to form a new educational establishment which is now known as the University of Strathclyde. We will have a look at it during our Tour of Glasgow – come and join us!

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