1924 Popular History of American Invention

So, soap bubble are mentioned once in these few paragraphs and yet the picture the writer conjures is too vivid to forget.

Maybe 15 years ago I read about and never forgot this absurd true act of suspending kids from the ceiling by threads & running electricity through them as they blew bubbles to see what would happen. (True, some of you will note that 50 years later Ben Franklin experimenting with electricity will cook his own goose but that had nothing to do with bubbles.)

I include the text for your (possible) enjoyment.

It is amazing what one can discover along the path of looking for something else & this is an example of that.


Chapter 2: The Rise of Electricity

Book: A Popular History of American Invention.

Edited by: Waldemar Kaempffert

Published by: Charles Scribner's Sons



The First Sparks

The history of the rise of electricity is every whit as fascinating as the story of Aladdin's lamp. Aladdin rubbed his lamp and all things were possible of accomplishment. Today we press a button to achieve similar wonders. From the days of Thales, 600 years before Christ, to the time of Benjamin Franklin, the world's philosophers and inventors were busy briskly rubbing amber, sulphur balls, and pieces of glass, and getting wonderful electric sparks. Their simple experiments one may repeat now on a dry, cold day by chafing a hard-rubber penholder on the sleeve of one's coat, or by merely shuffling one's feet on the carpet.

Most of us have lit a gas-jet with finger-tip sparks. That spark has greater magic than Aladdin's lamp. The lamp and its owner were unreal. The electric spark is omnipotent, its power everlasting. Inventors, experimenting with electricity, soon noted that this "frictional" electricity could be "conducted" from one place to another; and Stephen Gray, in England, about 200 years ago, began sending the current hundreds of feet over circuits of packthread held up by silken loops, or "insulators." Living at a famous London charity school, Gray, as a poor pensioner, was glad to get the inexpensive help of the boys for his queer experiments. While the youngsters were doubtless scared, they must have found Gray's experiments more amusing than their school lessons, especially as there were such things to handle as a hot poker, a live chicken, a big map, and one of those new, fashionable articles, an "umbrella."

The boys were hung up in the air, and electrified. They blew soap-bubbles to which the "charge" jumped from their toes or their noses. When they got tired of bobbing around in loops of hair, like trapeze performers, they were stood up on cakes of resin and charged and discharged, all crackling and sparkling, until that gloomy playground of the grimy old Charterhouse School anticipated a dazzling comic scene at the Hippodrome in modern New York. The show was free to anybody who would poke his head through the stone gateway.

C. F. Dufay, in France, repeated these experiments and sent electricity over a wet string 1,256 feet long, and was merciful enough to use only one child. He found there were two kinds of electricity, which he called "vitreous" and "resinous," names that stuck long after scientists began to use the terms “negative" and "positive." He saw that like electricities repelled each other, while unlike electricities attracted. He also used solid insulators of Spanish wax, in place of silken loops, to hold up his circuit of thread. Dufay noted that bodies might be electrified either by direct touch or by "induction" through the air, and he conceived the clever idea of a whirl or "field of force" around his glass tubes, on which there was a charge of static electricity, due to the same old rubbing.

Cheered by friendly advices from the great Frenchman, who founded the famous Botanic Gardens in Paris, poverty stricken Gray in his humble Grey Friars' shelter, went at it again, overworking his little collection of accessories, which now included tea-kettles, fishing-rods, a "pint pot," pewter plates, and a sirloin of beef—not forgetting the small boys, wincing as they felt the sparks through their woollen stockings. Above all, Stephen Gray hoped that a way might be found "to collect a greater quantity of electric fire." Like others, he was impressed by the crackles, the "brushes" of flame, glows, and "rays of light," and he set it down in memorable black and white, that the force he was demonstrating seemed, comparing small effects with great, "to be of the same nature with thunder and lightning."

Early Attempts at Harnessing Electricity

The boys, handy to philosophers, must have had an uncomfortable time while sparks of greater size, sting, and dazzle were being obtained and tested. Eventually the electricity obtained from the frictional machines was actually "stored." A Scottish monk, Gordon, teaching in Germany, soon after Gray's death, in 1736, Invented the first electric bell. [Continues]