In 2002 the world commemorated the 250th anniversary of the invention of the lightning rod. In 2006 the tricentenary of the birth of its inventor, Benjamin Franklin, was celebrated. In spite of this attention, the development and adoption of the lightning rod remain poorly understood, perhaps because it is so deeply embedded in our culture that we overlook it. Playing with Fire reveals the complex histories of the lightning rod in a multidisciplinary and multifaceted manner. To reflect of the development of the “Franklin rod” is to understand how science and technology have entered our world and changed it in profound ways.
This collection of historical and scientific studies shows the impressive significance of the invention, development, and use of the lightning rod in the past 250 years. These astute and superbly illustrated studies offer a richer account, tracing the lightning rod's geographical scope through Europe and the Americas and its cultural and aesthetic meanings, including the major changes in sense of lightning and atmospheric electricity in nineteenth and twentieth century societies. The book will fascinate readers concerned with the history and prospects of the sciences, technology, and the environment.
Simon Schaffer, Professor of History of Science, University of Cambridge
Playing with Fire shows how a simple metal rod became a complex and contradictory icon of enlightenment. Moving beyond its storied revolutionary symbolism, these essays skillfully explore the range of techniques, experiments, and publics that fashioned conductors and their varied meanings across time and space. Enlightenment propagandists displayed talismanic faith in the lightning rod's ability to calmly tame not only forces of natural destruction but also superstitious fear of a vengeful god. What these studies brilliantly demonstrate, however, is just how contested, puzzling and dangerous these devices often proved among early experimenters and their audiences. This is an intriguing and entertaining secret history of one of modernity’s most cherished technoscientific objects.
James Delbourgo, Rutgers University
Peter Heering is Professor of Physics and Physics Didactics at the Universität Flensburg. Oliver Hochadel is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Universität Autònoma de Barcelona. David Rhees is Executive Director of the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis.