Not long after Franklin's iconic studies, an atmospheric electric field was discovered in "fair weather" regions, well away from thunderstorms. The origin of the fair weather field was sought by Lord Kelvin, through development of electrostatic instrumentation and early data logging techniques, but was ultimately explained through the global circuit model of C.T.R. Wilson. In Wilson's model, charge exchanged by disturbed weather electrifies the ionosphere, and returns via a small vertical current density in fair weather regions. New insights into the relevance of fair weather atmospheric electricity to terrestrial and planetary atmospheres are now emerging. For example, there is a possible role of the global circuit current density in atmospheric processes, such as cloud formation. Beyond natural atmospheric processes, a novel practical application is the use of early atmospheric electrostatic investigations to provide quantitative information on past urban air pollution.