Prokop Divis

 

When it comes to the development of lighting rods, you may initially think of Benjamin Franklin and his electricity-related experiments. You may not know of Prokop Divis who happens to be the first one who invented the grounded lighting rod which is still used in today’s modern infrastructures. He was also a natural scientist, theologian, and one of the Czech canon regulars during his time. A man of science from the earlier centuries, Prokop Divis thought ahead of his time and made this classic invention.

Early Life and Background

Prokop Divis was born as Václav Divíšek on the 26th of March back in 1698. He was born in Helvíkovice, Bohemia which is now known as Ústí nad Orlicí District of the Czech Republic. When he was a child, his initial studies began when he went to the Jesuit gymnasium in their town. In 1716, when Prokop was 18, he then entered a gymnasium which was run in Louka, in one of the Premonasterian abbeys there. It was there where he was able to complete his basic education in 1719.

After he was able to complete his basic education, he chose to enter the novitiate of the abbey and he took the name Prokop or what is also known as “Procopius.” A year after his entry into the novitiate, he was able to complete the probation period. Another year later, he professed the religious vows he had in the Order.

Prokop then continued to improve his knowledge by studying both theology and philosophy while he was preparing for his ordination into priesthood. He was ordained later on in 1726. Three years later, he began to teach philosophy at that abbey’s gymnasium. He taught until 1735 and during this time, Prokop had been instructed by his abbot to go to the Paris Lodron University, now known as the University of Salzburg. While he was there, he pursued his advanced studies in the field of theology. He was able to complete his doctoral dissertation and in 1733, he was able to have his Doctor of Theology degree.

After the completion of his degree, he went back to the abbey and resumed how he was with the monastic life being a canon regular. There, he served as the abbey’s sub-prior. In 1736, he was then appointed as a pastor of one of the parishes in Primetice which is now a part of Znojmo. He was in that area for 5 years until he was called back to his own abbey in 1741. When he was recalled that April he then became the abbey’s prior.

Career as a Scientist

Although definitely a man who believed in God and served the church, Prokop still was able to make his own contribution as an inventor and scientist whose product is still being used today. He earned the needed experience to come up with his invention when he was still in the parish.

During his time in the parish, Prokop had been responsible for managing the farmland which was in their vinicinty. He was also in charge of the water conduit construction there, which gave him the exposure he needed to understand how things worked. Because of the time he spent managing the farm, he developed an interest for something which was then the current buzz in the scientific community—electricity. After his curiosity was piqued, he began to perform his own experiments and with great success.

When Georg Wilhelm Richmann who was one of the professors at St. Petersburg reached Prokop’s knowledge, he then became interested in atmospheric electricity. The cause of death of Richmann had been because of being struck by lightning. Since electricity was a big thing back then, exploring all possible options as well as sources of electricity had sparked the interest of Prokop. Because of the instance of Richmann’s death, it prompted Prokop to build what he called as the “weather-machine” when he went back to Primetice.

While he was doing his research, he was able to come up with the very first grounded lightning rod. He made use of the safe empiric method to conduct his research, and from how he observed thunderstorms, he was able to deduce that lighting only happened to be an electrical spark. He also realized how he can imitate lightning even in just a smaller scale. This was what he did and he found ways to make thunderbolts making contact with objects on the ground harmless.

One other important discover he made was how metallic points and not any other material can quickly attract as well as discharge the electricity faster than other materials. This was when he began to make the first application of what he then later on finally developed as the grounded lighting rod. So much so was his success that he even demonstrated his findings at Vienna’s Imperial Court. It was Emperor Francis Stephen who invited Prokop to repeat the experiments he had conducted before the Vienna Imperial Court. The demonstrations he did were even honored with the presence of no less than the Empress Maria Theresa. Very much pleased, the imperial couple gave Prokop two heavy golden medals to show their appreciation of his work.

This was in 1754, 6 years before Benjamin Franklin made his lighting rod in the United States. The main difference was that Benjamin Franklin’s lighting rod was not grounded and therefore did not work well while Prokop’s was. This difference made the defining factor of the perfectly working lighting rod from the other not so perfect invention. Apart from his invention of the very first lightning rod that was fully functional since it was grounded, he also created the very first electrical musical instrument. This was called the Denis d’or. It was invented in 1753, and this instrument had properties which allowed it to imitate the sound that other instruments made.

Initially, Prokop only studied science for the sake of being able to find the truth. But when he realized that he could utilize his findings, he did and made the most productive use of his scholarly knowledge. In 1765, Prokop died on the 21st of December while he was in Primetice.