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Lightning Strikes Washington: Franklin would be Proud

If you haven’t seen this amazing display of nature, please take a look. Every now and then someone will either film or take amazing pictures of great lightning strikes. In this little clip, the lightning strikes in a few different places, then lands squarely on the Washington Monument.

In seeing this display, I immediately thought of one of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin. For those not very familiar with Franklin (outside of his picture on the $100 bill), if you do a quick Wikipedia search, you’ll first see stated that he was a “leading writer, printer, political philosopher, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.” Its all true, and having recently read a biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson, I can say that I was truly impressed by this man of the Enlightenment, who helped bring America into being. I would also highly recommend the bio as well.

Where old Ben falls into this story, for those wondering where I’m going with this piece, Franklin was well known for his relationship with lightning and specifically electricity. He was out to prove that lightning was, in fact, electricity, which was in doubt during his time. So, he created some experiments that essentially proved his point and was replicated by others. Here are his own words regarding the famous kite flying experiment:

“When rain has wet the kite twine so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it streams out plentifully from the key at the approach of your knuckle, and with this key a phial, or Leyden jar, may be charged: and from electric fire thus obtained spirits may be kindled, and all other electric experiments [may be] performed which are usually done by the help of a rubber glass globe or tube; and therefore the sameness of the electrical matter with that of lightening [sic?] completely demonstrated.”

After this discovery, he went on to invent the lightning rod. This would be an extraordinary invention because the lightning rod prevented lightning strikes from causing fires, which was a common problem in the 1700s. This, as I discovered, was a catapult to his life and career. Franklin was already a popular figure with many accomplishments at this point. As a matter of fact, he had essentially already “retired” in his forties to pursue his hobbies and interests.

His discoveries, experiments with electricity and invention of the lightning rod made him a celebrity across the known world. He would travel to Europe and was treated like a rock star. Add this to his other accomplishments and his ability to persuade, and you quickly learn that Franklin was not just about doing things to improve the world, he was also about selling himself as great man of the world. He would go on to be the figurehead and chief persuader as diplomat for the newly fledgling United States government in France. In this role, he would help to negotiate peace with Great Britain and secure America’s independence.

Born in 1706, Franklin was elderly at the beginning of our nation. However, despite his age, he was very involved and would play the elder statesman of congress as the founding fathers figured out exactly what this new nation would become. He appears to have been a mysterious man, who seemed to want to be private and popular at the same time.

So, I think my question for myself and anyone else who wants to impact this world for good is: “What will be your “lightning rod” in life? What will you discover about your strengths and talents in order to make the world a better place than you found it?” It may not be the founding of a nation, but it might just change some lives for the better.

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