Spark Tube

Description (Brief):

Joseph Priestley (1733–1804) used this object in his Northumberland, Pennsylvania laboratory. Priestley, the noted chemist whose accomplishments include the discovery of oxygen, was born in England. He lived and worked in Birmingham for many years, but his views as a Dissenter and an advocate of the French Revolution incited an angry mob into burning down his house and laboratory. In 1794 he fled to America, eventually settling in Northumberland, near Philadelphia. His great-great-granddaughter, Frances Priestley, donated his surviving laboratory ware to the Smithsonian in 1883.

Description (Brief)

This object has been variously identified by historians as a eudiometer (an instrument for measuring change in gas volume) or a kind of Leyden jar (an instrument for storing electricity.) Perhaps the most convincing identification comes from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. In the spring of 1983 the Smithsonian loaned the object to the Franklin Institute for an exhibition entitled, Joseph Priestley, Enlightened Chemist. Curators noted that it could be screwed into an air pump of Priestley’s in the Franklin’s collection. They speculate that Priestley may have used the tube as part of electrical demonstrations to entertain friends. By attaching it to the air pump and creating a vacuum within the tube, streams of electricity would be more visible and impressive upon the tube’s discharge.

Description (Brief)


Description (Brief)

National Museum of American History Accession File #13305

Used By: Priestley, Joseph

Location: Currently not on view

Subject: Science & Scientific Instrumentselectricity


See more items in: Medicine and Science: Chemistry, Joseph Priestley, Science & Mathematics


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Miss Frances D. Priestley

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: CH.315350Catalog Number: 315350Accession Number: 13305

Object Name: spark tube

Physical Description: glass (overall material)brass (overall material)Measurements: overall: 10 1/2 in x 2 1/8 in; 26.67 cm x 5.3975 cm


Record Id: nmah_1769

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.