Dr. Percival's Fantastic Demonstrations. 1786

First bubble tricks in writing. AMAZING tricks ANY Bubbler today would be proud to accomplish!

Are these the FIRST BUBBLE TRICKS described in writing?

I Believe so! And what tricks they were! (See below)

What we know about bubble tricks before this letter comes from paintings and other art work.

What about Newton's work with soap films? I do not think his thin-film experiments presage bubble entertainment or play.

I propose we Bubblers celebrate and annually commemorate October 11, the date of Dr. Percival's Letter in 1786. Are You With Me?

Percival was a serious scientist with, apparently, a playful side.

Hidden among a lot of technical prose in this letter are a few mostly off-topic paragraphs detailing other ways to have fun with soap bubbles. Remember, this is 1786!

Which Bubble Tricks Were Described?

  • Bouncing and rolling bubbles.
  • Smoke filled bubbles.
  • Poking bubbles with pins.
  • Blowing bubbles in bubbles.
  • Floating bubbles with Flammable Gas.
  • Tethering floating bubbles with thread so they float like balloons.
  • Attaching a fuse to flammable gas bubbles, adding gunpowder, lighting the fuse of the bubble as it floats away to explode and issue a burst of flame!
  • Dr. P knew how to party. I haven't found evidence of anyone else adding fuses to flammable gas filled bubbles. Not then. Not now.


From Dr. Thomas Percival's LETTER ON ATTRACTION AND REPULSION. Communicated Oct. 11, 1786

The bubble demonstrations portion of a much longer text...

... Soap bubbles will roll over or rebound from a carpet, though they be filled with smoke, which makes them heavier than when blown with clear air. Also pins may be thrust through them, and even the small end of a tobacco pipe, so as to blow a smaller bubble within the larger without its immediately breaking: but if a bubble fall upon a smooth plain surface, it instantly breaks.

I have sometimes been amused with blowing bubbles with inflammable air, and by attaching to them a small circle of paper and fine thread or raw silk, could hold them suspended in the air for a considerable time.

Another amusing experiment was to fix to the inflammable air bubble a small slip of nitrate paper [fuse], to the side of which and near the top a grain of gunpowder was annexed. The small end of the paper was lighted, and burning up to the gunpowder during its ascent, it exploded, and at the same instant fired the inflammable air...

1786 TRICKS OF THE 1700S JOHN PERCIVAL FROM HIS LETTER ON ATTRACTION AND REPULSION ? 120 Memoirs_of_the_Literary_and_Philosophica bubble experiments 1790-1 (dragged) copy 2.pdf