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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/257

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ELECTRICITY FROM THALES TO FARADAY.

early as 600 b. c, by Thales of Miletus, although he does not transmit to us the name of the original observer of the phenomenon. Homely as was the experiment, it marked a beginning in electrical research.

Not that scientific investigations in that or any line were pushed very assiduously in those days, for there is a great gap between the discovery of the property above alluded to and the acquisition of any more solid knowledge pertaining to electricity. The phenomenon was at that time set down in the list of natural facts, and no attempt appears to have been made to connect it with others. The inquiring spirit of the present age can hardly be brought into more striking relief than by a comparison of the, at present, almost daily advances in scientific knowledge with the fact that twenty-two hundred years elapsed between the discovery of the above-mentioned power of amber by the ancients and the later one that a very large number of other substances, such as diamonds, vitrefactions of ail kinds, sulphur, common resin, etc., possess the same property. A few other scattered facts were, however, also noted by the ancients: fire is said to have streamed from the head of Servius Tullius at the age of seven, and Virgil asserts that flame was emitted by the hair of Aseanius.

In examining, now, the history of the rise of electrical science we find, as just mentioned, the vast gap of over two millenniums between the discovery of the attracting power of rubbed amber and the mere extension of man's knowledge so as to include other substances. The philosophers Boyle and Otto von Guericke, who were active during the latter half of the seventeenth century, added a mass of new data in this line. Boyle, moreover, discovered the equivalence of action and reaction between the attracting and the attracted body, and that the rubbed amber or other "electric" retained its attractive powers for a certain period after excitation had ceased.

Otto von Guericke made a vast step forward by constructing the first electrical machine, in a crude form, truly, but which proved of the utmost service in adding to our knowledge of the properties of electricity. His machine was constructed very simply of a globe of sulphur mounted on a spindle, which could be rotated by means of a crank; the operator applied friction with the hand, his body receiving a positive charge, while the surface of the sulphur acquired a negative. The fact of the two electrifications being separated at the surface of the sulphur was not, however, known at the time; the only charge that Guericke observed being that appearing on the sulphur. The reason for this was that the latter, being a nonconductor, any electricity generated upon it was compelled to stay there,