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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/259

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ELECTRICITY FROM THALES TO FARADAY.

conductors. The only source of electricity which was at the disposal of experimenters up to this time was the electrical machine, improved, as described, by Newton, which furnished intermittent currents (discharges) of infinitesimal quantity, as we should say now, but of extremely high pressure. This fact of the enormous pressure resulted in the electricity's forcing its way through very imperfect conductors, so as to cause our investigators to rank many of these latter with the metals. Thus Gray concluded that pack thread was a good conductor because it did not oppose sufficient resistance to prevent the flow of his high pressure (or, as we should now say, high voltage or tension) electricity. He tried wire as well, but did not realize it was a better conductor than the thread, although its conductivity was actually in the millions of times as great. In collaboration with his friend Wheeler he conveyed electrical discharges a distance of eight hundred and eighty-six feet, through presumably air-dry pack thread—an achievement which would almost be notable at the present time. He insulated the line by hanging it from loops of silk thread.

Gray hoped "that there may be found out a way to collect a greater quantity of electric fire, and consequently to increase the force of that power, which, si licet magnis componere parva, seems to be of the same nature with thunder and lightning."

About this time Desaguliers discovered that those materials which, upon being rubbed, develop electrical charges, are all nonconductors, and that, conversely, nonelectrics are conductors. The terms electrics and nonelectrics were applied to bodies respectively capable and incapable of excitation; the words idioelectrics and anelectrics were also used in respectively equivalent senses.

In France, Dufay discovered that the conductivity of pack thread was greatly improved by the presence of moisture, and he succeeded in conveying a discharge a distance of almost thirteen hundred feet. He suspended himself by silken cords and had himself electrified, and then observed that he could give a shock accompanied by a spark to any person standing on the ground.

He also established the fact of the two opposite kinds of electrification, and gave them the names of vitreous and resinous, from the fact that the former was developed by the excitation of glass and vitreous substances generally, and the latter from that of amber and resins. He observed that the distinguishing characteristic of the two was the fact that opposite charges attracted each other, while similar ones exerted mutual repulsion. Dufay and Gray died within three years of each other, both at the age of forty. Gray having added to the results already mentioned the discovery of the conducting powers of certain liquids and of the human body.