In April 1909 the Jamestown Alert issued the following public service announcement: “George E. Bates of Grand Forks, a lightning rod man, registered at the Capital Hotel today.”
This notice may seem innocuous, but it was intended as a warning, and also a jest. Nowadays it requires some explanation. In 1909, everyone knew what the joke was. Come spring traveling salesmen would show up at the farm gate again, and the most notorious among them was the lightning rod man. Indeed, the very phrase, “lightning rod man,” was a joke unto itself, guaranteed to provoke guffaws--if not profanity.