Lightning rods and fashion

In this Weather Wednesday we look at how Benjamin Franklin's lightning rod inspired fashion.


FARGO - It is Spring Fashion Week in Paris and there is no telling what the designers may have been inspired by this season. But back in the eighteenth century lightning was the muse, a shocking style from the 1700s.

Sideways and upside down dresses may be the latest haute couture trend from the runway but nearly 250 years ago the fashion was Franklin inspired, Benjamin Franklin that is. This hat from 1778 may seem typical for its time but if you look a bit closer, you’ll see there is a small chain that runs from around the top of the hat, down to the ground. This, along with umbrellas constructed using the same principle, were the fashion fad in France shortly after Benjamin Franklin introduced the lightning rod.

The metal chain on the hats and umbrellas theoretically provided a path for lightning to travel without harming the wearer.

And while this was a short-lived style, and not recommended to replicate today, the idea that ignited the trend is valid and can be seen across the globe, especially in tall buildings since lightning will often strike the tallest object around.

The Empire State Building in New York City gets struck by lightning 25 times per year on average but it has a lightning rod and lightning protection system in place. The rod is made of highly conductive material like copper, it is connected to a wire grid that runs along the outside of the building down to the ground to safely distribute the bolt’s harmful electrical current.


And while the lightning rod may have taken off faster in France, it took another fifty years for lightning rods to become more acceptable and common in the United States.

Jesse Ritka is a StormTracker meteorologist and holds the AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seal of approval.

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