Prof. Richmann, arranged an apparatus to collect this electricity. On the first occasion of a storm he went to his laboratory to observe the effects. A ball of fire was seen to leap from the apparatus to his head, and he fell lifeless.
A flash of lightning really consists of a discharge between two objects, say two clouds, or a cloud and the earth, oppositely electrified, the charges on which suddenly combine, with the manifestation of light and heat. Lightning conductors are contrivances by which the electricity of the earth is allowed to escape quietly into the atmosphere, where it meets with electricity of the opposite character from the clouds, and the two neutralize each other quietly, without any explosive discharge, or, in other words, without lightning. I need not go back to the first principles of electrical science and explain why it is that electricity passes most easily through metals, and escapes with greater freedom from sharp points than from rounded knobs. Assuming these elementary facts, I may say that on any object, such as a house or other building, the electricity tends to accumulate itself on all projecting portions of the roof, etc., and especially on the highest points of it. The ideal complete lightning-rod system would call for a sharp-pointed copper rod erected at each of these projecting pinnacles, and rising above it, and would then connect all these separate points by copper rods, and eventually carry down a stout copper rod to the earth. Care must be taken that due attention is paid to certain main precautions: (1) The point of the conductor must be kept sharp; (2) the section of the conducting rod must be sufficient to allow the electricity to pass along it; (3) the rod must be perfectly continuous; and, lastly (4), the rod must be efficiently connected with the ground.
1. The sharpness of the point is insured by gilding it or coating it with some metal which resists oxidation.
2. As to the section of the rod, a bar half an inch in diameter is sufficient for all ordinary buildings. Bars are not usually employed, as it is difficult to bend them over cornices, etc.; accordingly, either wire ropes or tapes are taken. The wire ropes are more liable to corrosion from wet getting in between the strands than are tapes, so that the latter are generally preferred.
3. The continuity of the metallic connection from the highest point of the rod to the ground can only be secured by having as few joints as may be, and by making those joints as true and firm as possible by soldering. The joints should be examined from time to time, for it is often found, on examination of old conductors, that while the copper wire or tape is quite sound along its straight reaches, at the bends or joints corrosion has set in. As a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, a corroded conductor, such as has been described, is perfectly useless.