Joseph Henry Provides Advice on Protecting U.S. Capitol Building from Lightning

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Summary

First Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry provides advice on protecting the United States Capitol Building from lightning, in response to a query from Vice President George Mifflin Dallas. A gaslight entrepreneur had proposed the outside of the building be lit by attaching a massive lantern to an eighty-foot mast extending from the dome's center. In his formal reply to Dallas, Henry remarks that such a mechanism will surely attract lightning, but that properly grounding the lantern will prevent damage to the building. With modifications recommended by Henry, the mast is erected. The following summer, however, Henry is asked to inspect the mast and discovers that lightning has struck it several times. The mast is then removed.

Subject

  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Dallas, George Mifflin 1792-1864
  • United States Capitol (Washington, D.C.)

Category

Chronology of Smithsonian History

Legal document information

SCAN IMAGE OF US CAPITOL - PAINTING OF DC C. 1840S

Notes

  • Image of Smithsonian Institution Building with U.S. Capitol in the distance, 1863. Smithsonian Institution Archives, negative number SIA2011-1448.
  • Rothenberg, Marc, et al, eds. The Papers of Joseph Henry, Volume 7, January 1847-December 1849: The Smithsonian Years. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996, pp. 154-55,158-59, 358-60.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu

Date

August 12, 1847

Topic

  • Electricity
  • Secretaries
  • Lightning
  • Lightning rods
  • Atmospheric electricity
  • Meteorology

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