This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
M. Bede, of Brussels, has an article in L'Ingénieur-Conseil on the above subject. He considers that a system of such wires forms the best and most complete security against lightning with which a town can be provided, because they protect not only the buildings in which they terminate, but also those over which they pass. At each end they communicate with the earth, and thus carry off safely any surplus of electricity with which they may become charged. It is, however, important that they should be provided with lightning conductors of their own, to carry off such surplus directly from the transmission wire to the earth wire, without allowing it to pass through the fine wires of the induction coils, which it might fuse.
Such lightning conductors usually consist of a toothed plate attached to one wire, close to another plate not toothed attached to the other wire. The copper even of such a conductor has been melted by the powerful current which it has carried away. In telephonic central offices, M. Bede has seen all the signals of one row of telephone wires fall at the same moment, proving that an electric discharge had fallen upon the wires, and been by them conveyed to earth.
This fact shows that wires, even without points, are capable of attracting the atmospheric electricity; but it must be remembered that there are two points at every join in the wire. M. Bede insists strongly upon the uselessness of terminating lightning conductors in wells, or even larger pieces of water. The experiments of MM. Becquerel and Pouillet proved that the resistance of water to the passage of electricity is one thousand million times greater than that of iron; consequently, if the current conveyed by a wire one square mm. thick were to be carried off by water without increased resistance, a surface of contact between the wire and the water of not less than 1,000 square meters must be established.
It is obvious that a wire let down into a well is simply useless. On the two-fluid theory, it offers no effectual way of escape to the terrestrial electricity; according to the older views, it would be absolutely dangerous, by attracting more electricity from the clouds than it could dispose of. The author advocates connecting lightning conductors with water or gas pipes, which have an immense surface of contact with the earth.