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William Jennings, Pioneer Work in Photography of Lightning, 1930

Unlike Any Other

Jennings was a nontraditional recipient of the Wetherill Medal. Most nominees for Franklin Institute awards are nominated for their own original inventions, but Jennings was not an inventor. He did make certain key adjustments to his camera in order to be able to photograph lightning, but he did not produce and patent an original invention. Though The Franklin Institute Committee on Science and the Arts did determine that it wanted to recognize Jennings' contributions to science, there was much debate as to what the appropriate reward would be. Two medals, the Longstreth Medal and the Wetherill Medal, were selected for the Committee to decide between. An original document outlines the requirements for both awards: "The Edward Longstreth Medal may be awarded for inventions or for meritorious improvements and developments in machines and mechanical processes;" "The John Price Wetherill Medal may be awarded for discovery or invention in the physical sciences, or for new and important combinations of principles of methods already known." The Wetherill Medal was ultimately chosen to recognize Jennings.

Committee member James Barnes summed up the reasoning behind this decision: "I think neither regulations governing the award of either silver medal fit the case exactly. However the Wetherill medal comes nearest to it, for Mr. Jennings discovered that lightning could be photographed which is a discovery in physical science."

You can view the full text of Barnes' letter and continue looking over the various correspondence of the Committee Members by clicking on the thumbnails on this page.

Committee Chair Palmer called for a copy of the medal regulations to be sent out to all Committee Members. The Secretary complied, sending letters of instruction along with the regulations to each of them. Then the Secretary sent word to Palmer when each Committee Member had reached a decision.

Secretary to Levy
Secretary Letter to Levy, Instructions and Regulations, 11/15/1929. (2.6M)

Secretary to Wright
Secretary Letter to Wright, Instructions and Regulations, 11/15/1929. (2.7M)

Secretary to Palmer
Secretary Letter to Palmer, Committee reached a decision, 11/18/1929. (2.8M)

Longstreth vs. Wetherill
Outline of Longstreth and Wetherill Medals - Note from Palmer. (1.5M)
Outline of Longstreth and Wetherill Medals - Note to Hoadley. (2.2M)