Lightning Rod Balls

Originally published in the Spring 2004 issue of the Iowa Barn Foundation Magazine.
Written by Roxanne Mehlisch.

Lightning rod balls have long been part of the American rural landscape. Some were made as early as 1840. They were originally sold as ornaments for lightning rods and are found in a wide range of shapes and colors. Made of glass or ceramic, they had no practical use, but added a decorative touch to the rods.

The balls were usually about four and a half inches in diameter. Glass balls were typically white and blue milk glass. Clear glass ones have often turned to amethyst from sun exposure to impurities in the glass.

There are some 34 shapes or styles of lightning rod balls. The balls were sold by salesmen going from farm to farm in horse drawn wagons from 1870 until the Great Depression closed businesses.