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Making Friends With Franklin

Enduring Legacy
Introduction - Making Connections - The Republic of Science - Scientist and Statesman
A Bifocal View - Franklin the Friend - Enduring Legacy

Benjamin Franklin probably approved of the 555-foot monument to his friend Washington, for whom he had the loftiest of words: "George Washington, commander of the American armies, who, like Joshua of old, commanded the sun and the moon to stand still, and they obeyed him."

He might have also enjoyed knowing of his own contribution to the Washington Monument. For more than a century, a system of lightning rods has protected it from the strikes it gets, on average, once a year.

The monument will be under a sheath of scaffolding until next spring. The National Park Service is cleaning the marble and making general repairs. Although it will replace the lightning rods, it will make no improvement on Franklin's invention. The new rods, in fact, will be closer to those of Franklin's time.

The Army Corps of Engineers installed the sytem in the 1880s, during the second phase of construction. The copper rods have a coating of gold, which protects the marble from stains, and tips of platinum.

"The platinum was excessive," said Steve Lorenzetti of the Park Service. "We believe it was put there because they thought it would better withstand a direct strike. But we've found that a copper rod will do the job just as well. We're keeping the copper and gold coating."

  1999 Kite festival
The Washington Monument during the 1999 Smithsonian Kite Festival.

Franklin the Friend
Lesson 1
Introduction | Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Resources
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