Electricity: An 18th Century Wonder!

The exhibit investigates the study of electricity and electrical technology from the 18th to the 21st century. The word electricity is derived from the ancient Greek word for amber – electron – a material that behaved in interesting ways when rubbed, e.g. producing sparks and attracting lightweight objects.


Here is an image from Jean-Antoine Nollet’s 1752 letters on electricity to his contemporaries, published in three volumes in 1753 and reprinted between 1774 and 1777 after his death. Nollet was a leader in electrical research in France in the 18th century. In this image, an unseen scientist uses his hands to rub a rotating glass globe to produce electricity, located in the lower right hand corner. A metal chain near the globe siphons off the ensuing electric charge, conducting the charge to the four metal bars located above. An assistant pulls sparks from the bars by bringing metal wands of different shapes and sizes near the bars. Why? Nollet was investigating
whether the shape and thickness of the conductors
seen here affected the amount and distribution of charge.

Image from Nollet, Jean Antoine. Lettres sur l'Électricité (1752). Three Volumes. Paris: Pierre-Étienne-Germain Durand, 1774-1777, courtesy of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Puget Sound.

Learn about Making Electricity --->