30 November: On this day in 1753 Benjamin Franklin was awarded the Copley Medal “On account of his curious Experiments and Observations on Electricity”

There was no such thing as the Nobel Prize in 1753 and the Copley Medal was one of the most prestigious awards that a gentleman could aspire to. At the time, the British considered anyone born on the other side of the Atlantic not quite on a par with them; hence bestowing the Medal on an American citizen was quite a breakthrough. The “American” in question was none other than Benjamin Franklin, who may never have been president but is nevertheless the face on $100 notes.

At 42 years of age, Franklin had become so wealthy that he could afford to engage solely in what he termed “Philosophical Studies and Amusements”: the pastimes of a gentleman. And so, partly as study and partly as amusement, he flew a silk kite attached to a metal key during a storm. Having ascertained that the flashes of lightning were not being hurled down by the fury of Zeus, he began to think about how to ‘channel’ such energy: this led to the invention of the lightning rod. There isn’t unanimous consensus that Franklin actually carried out this experiment: but we don’t want to burst his bubble. After all, it’s notorious that Benjamin was an inveterate womaniser and so, to stay in the realms of mythology, let’s imagine that he had been struck by Cupid’s arrow – or, as the French say, a “coup de foudre” (literally, “thunderbolt”) – and that he was multitasking at the time, combining… studies and amusements!

Name Day:
St Andrew the Apostle