20th March 1800.

Elektron is the Greek word for amber: fossilised resin.


Today a letter was sent in 1800 to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, by Volta: ‘On the electricity excited by mere contact of conducting substances of different kinds’.

Many people had been experimenting with electrical forces in previous centuries, but it was the dyer and amateur astronomer, Stephen Gray (1666-7.2.1736), who first demonstrated that electricity could flow in conduction as opposed to the static effect.

Gray, like many enquiring minds of those times, fascinated by natural phenomena, used a glass tube as an a friction generator, and noted that the cork put on the end to keep out dust and moisture, generated an attractive force on small pieces of paper and bits of chaff, when the tube was rubbed: a static force.

He then noticed that this force could be conducted along the cork and along a stick inserted in the cork and along attached pieces of string, even going round corners. He ensured there was no leakage to earth by insulation of the conducting material.

The leisured clergy, of those days, were also involved in early ‘scientific’ (1) observations with the Rev Granville Wheler (1701-70) collaborating with Gray, and after the latter’s death in 1736, published his own ‘observations on electrostatics’.

‘Static’ results when two materials, such as wool, plastic or shoes on a carpet are rubbed together The process pulls electrons from one surface, which becomes positively charged, onto the other which become negatively charged. One can thus experience an electric shock when the two materials make contact.(2)

Gray is largely unknown today, owing to factional disputes in the Royal Society and there is no monument to him, but he was the first recipient of the Copley Grant of £100 in 1731 to fund scientific experiments. The Copley gold medal was awarded from 1736 onwards.(3)

Gray is among many people who were to pioneer work in electrical experiments and so prepared the way for the likes of Volta and Faraday amongst many others.

(1) The word ‘science’ is a 19thc invention.

(2) The two ‘kinds’ of electricity were known as vitreous (positive) and resinous (negative).

(3) Named after Sir Godfrey Copley MP and a member of Royal Society.

Ref: hazelnut.com/static-electricity: Pic Ref.

Ref: Curing hiccup with small fires: A Delightful Miscellany of Great Britains/ Stephen Gray.

Ref: rsc.org/chemistry world/issues/2003.

Ref: amasci.com/humans and sparks,1997, William J Beaty.

Ref: wikipedia.org/static_electricity.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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