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 machine was made by the "Chambers’ National Lightning Protection Company," established around 1880 by Josephus C. Chambers, Cincinnati to market his lightning protection system. Apparently Chambers branched out into more general electrical devices after negative reviews of his lightning system were published.
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 Chambers machine shows a cruciform design with centrally-mounted cylinder that rubbed against a leather pad. A steel prime conductor with a comb on one end collected the charge. The glass rod serves as an insulator.
Currently not on view
Object Name
cylinder-type frictional electrostatic machine
electrostatic generator
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
glass (overall material)
brass (overall material)
steel (overall material)
iron (overall material)
leather (overall material)
cloth (overall material)
overall: 22 1/2 in x 26 in x 30 1/8 in; 57.15 cm x 66.04 cm x 76.5175 cm
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 Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago)
Additional Media

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