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, made around 1780, includes a steel T-shaped charge collector or prime conductor mounted to one side of the cylinder and a leather pad with silk cloth to mounted on the other side. Both mounts are adjustable by means of wooden screws set in the base. 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. There is no extant maker's mark on the machine although it is of the type designed by Edward Nairne in the 1780s. Nairne (1726-1806) of England made electrical and other scientific devices.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
cylinder-type frictional electrostatic machine
electrostatic generator
date made
ca 1780
associated person
Nairne, Edward
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
glass (overall material)
steel (overall material)
cloth (overall material)
leather (overall material)
brass (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 20 1/2 in x 27 1/2 in x 22 1/2 in; 52.07 cm x 69.85 cm x 57.15 cm
ID Number
EM*315180
catalog number
315180
accession number
216217
subject
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 Middlebury College
Additional Media

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