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Benjamin Wilson (1721-88)

Observations upon Lightning 1773-74

24.0 x 1.5 cm (book measurement (inventory)) | RCIN 1090180

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  • Benjamin Wilson was a painter and amateur scientist who wrote these treatises on lightning and the new innovation of lightning rods, in order to prevent damage to buildings during storms.
    This book contains Wilson's 1773 treatise on lightning, which was also published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, a second one, rejected by the Society the following year and a further four pages of manuscript notes, probably by West, emphasising the benefits of his design over that of Benjamin Franklin.
    Wilson argued for a rounded tip to his lightning rods, believing that they were better at reducing damage in comparison to the tapered rods invented by Franklin. Wilson, an ardent royalist, had the support of George III, while Franklin was known to support American grievances against Britain. Franklin had lived in London since 1757 and would return to America in 1775 to attend the Second Continental Congress, which led to the American declaration of independence.
    In 1777, following a competition held between the two inventions, the king declared Wilson's design the winner and ordered that it be used for the rods added to royal residences and the gunpowder stores at Purfleet.
    In reality, both rods were effective, Wilson's was perhaps slightly more so due to the greater surface area it provided, but the difference was negligible. The competition led the king's physician and president of the Royal Society, Sir John Pringle, a friend of Franklin, to resign his posts due to his disagreement with the outcome.


    From the library of George III at Windsor

  • Measurements

    24.0 x 1.5 cm (book measurement (inventory))

  • Alternative title(s)

    Observations upon lightning and the method of securing buildings and it's effects in a letter to Sir Charles Frederick &c &c &c / by B. Wilson ... and others.

    Further observations upon lightning with more experiments / by Benjamin Wilson