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Protecting the Royal Navy from Lightning-William Snow Harris and His Struggle with the British Admiralty for Fixed Lightning Conductors

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Following Benjamin Franklin's announcement of the lightning rod in 1752, a protection system was devised for ships of the Royal Navy which used a chain conductor draped into the sea from the top of the mast. This system had only limited success since the chain, raised when lightning was expected, often was not installed when lightning struck; interfered with seamen manning the rigging; and was not capable of conducting some lightning strokes without damage to itself or the ship. In 1820, William Snow Harris invented a system of fixed lightning conductor plates which were routed along the aft side of the mast down through the hull to the copper sheathing on the bottom of the ship. Harris spent the next twenty-five years trying to persuade the British Admiralty to test his system and require its installation. For years, old prejudices against lightning conductors, notions of economy, and bureaucratic suspicions of technological innovation frustrated his efforts. It took a successful trial installation on eleven ships, an extensive campaign by Harris to publicize the extent of lightning damage to the navy, the favorable recommendations of two study committees, and administrative changes in the Admirality before the Royal Navy finally adopted the Harris conductors in 1842.

Published in:

Education, IEEE Transactions on  (Volume:21 ,  Issue: 1 )

Date of Publication:

Feb. 1978

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