The Complete Works in Philosophy, Politics and Morals of the late Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Vol. 1 [of 3]

By Benjamin Franklin

Page 234

motion, and the
resistance it meets with, produce heat in other bodies when passing
through them, provided they be small enough. A large quantity will
pass through a large wire, without producing any sensible heat;
when the same quantity passing through a very small one, being
there confined to a narrower passage, the particles crowding closer
together, and meeting with greater resistance, will make it red hot,
and even melt it.

Hence lightning does not melt metal by a cold fusion, as we formerly
supposed; but, when it passes through the blade of a sword, if the
quantity be not very great, it may heat the point so as to melt it,
while the broadest and thickest part may not be sensibly warmer than
before.

And when trees or houses are set on fire by the dreadful quantity
which a cloud, or the earth, sometimes discharges, must not the heat,
by which the wood is first kindled, be generated by the lightning's
violent motion, through the resisting combustible matter?

If lightning, by its rapid motion, produces heat in _itself_; as
well as in other bodies (and that it does I think is evident from
some of the foregoing experiments made with the thermometer) then
its sometimes singeing the hair of animals killed by it, may easily
be accounted for. And the reason of its not always doing so, may,
perhaps, be this: The quantity, though sufficient to kill a large
animal, may sometimes not be great enough, or not have met with
resistance enough, to become, by its motion, burning hot.

We find that dwelling-houses, struck with lightning, are seldom set
on fire by it; but when it passes through barns, with hay or straw in
them, or store-houses, containing large quantities of hemp, or such
like matter, they seldom, if ever, escape a conflagration; which may,
perhaps, be owing to such combustibles being apt to kindle with a
less degree of heat than is necessary to kindle wood.

We had four houses in this city, and a vessel at one of the wharfs,
struck and damaged by lightning last summer. One of the houses was
struck twice in the same storm. But I have the pleasure to inform
you, that your method of preventing such terrible disasters, has, by
a fact which had like to have escaped our knowledge, given a very
convincing proof of its great utility; and is now in higher repute
with us than ever.

Hearing, a few days ago, that Mr. William West, merchant in this
city, suspected that the lightning in one of the thunder-storms last
summer had passed through the iron conductor, which

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THE WAY TO WEALTH (From "Father Abraham's Speech," forming the preface to Poor _Richard's Almanac_ for 1758.