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Collections: Dawn of the Electrical Age (1600-1800)

Priestley Friction Machine

Priestley Friction Machine

Best known for his discovery of oxygen, Joseph Priestley also experimented with electricity and wrote the first comprehensive history on the subject, published in 1769.  The book includes detailed descriptions of several static electricity machines. 

Since no complete examples of these machine survive today, Museum President John Jenkins constructed a faithful reproduction of one machine, using the illustration and description in Priestley's book as a guide.  The wood base was carved to Jenkins' s specifications by Lee Grindinger, a master furniture maker from Montana. The glass was blown by Seattle artist David Smith of Blowing Sands Glass Studio, and the remainder of the work was done by Jenkins. Shown here, The machine stands about three feet tall, supporting a 10" glass sphere.

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