- 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.
- 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.
- National Museum of American History Accession File #13305
- Currently not on view
- Object Name
- spark tube
- used by
- Priestley, Joseph
- Associated Place
- United States: New Jersey
- Physical Description
- glass (overall material)
- brass (overall material)
- overall: 10 1/2 in x 2 1/8 in; 26.67 cm x 5.3975 cm
- ID Number
- catalog number
- accession number
- Credit Line
- Gift of Miss Frances D. Priestley
- Science & Scientific Instruments
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History
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