Cylinder-type Electrostatic Machine

Description (Brief)
People from ancient times knew that rubbing certain materials and then touching something caused a spark. Studying what is called electrostatics laid the groundwork for understanding electricity and magnetism. Natural philosophers, scientists, and instrument makers created many ingenious devices to generate electrostatic charges starting in the 1600s. These machines varied in size and technique but all involved rotary motion to generate a charge, and a means of transferring the charge to a storage device for use.
This electrostatic machine was made by George Adams, Jr., of London and is set on a base that includes a drawer containing various experimental accessories. During the 1750s electrical researchers refined the design of electrostatic machines by replacing earlier spherical globes with a glass cylinder, a design used for many years. This change increased the surface area of the glass in contact with the rubbing pad and improved the efficiency of the generator. The accessories include dischargers, along with a variety of hanging balls and rods that show electrical properties like attraction, repulsion, and strength of charge. Adams took over his father’s business after George Adams, Sr. died in 1772 and in 1784 published an Essay on Electricity with an Essay on Magnetism.
Currently not on view
Object Name
electrostatic generator
frictional cylinder electrostatic machine
date made
ca 1785
Adams, Jr., George
Physical Description
glass (overall material)
leather (overall material)
wood (overall material)
brass (overall material)
overall: 65 cm x 43 cm x 69 cm; 25 9/16 in x 16 15/16 in x 27 3/16 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Science & Mathematics
Electrostatic Machines
See more items in
Work and Industry: Electricity
Electrostatic Machines
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
from the Burndy Library
Additional Media

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