electricity: The Leyden Jar and the Quantitative Era

The Leyden Jar and the Quantitative Era

Progress quickened after the Leyden jar was invented in 1745 by Pieter van Musschenbroek. The Leyden jar stored static electricity, which could be discharged all at once. In 1747 William Watson discharged a Leyden jar through a circuit, and comprehension of the current and circuit started a new field of experimentation. Henry Cavendish, by measuring the conductivity of materials (he compared the simultaneous shocks he received by discharging Leyden jars through the materials), and Charles A. Coulomb, by expressing mathematically the attraction of electrified bodies, began the quantitative study of electricity.

A new interest in current began with the invention of the battery. Luigi Galvani had noticed (1786) that a discharge of static electricity made a frog's leg jerk. Consequent experimentation produced what was a simple electron cell using the fluids of the leg as an electrolyte and the muscle as a circuit and indicator. Galvani thought the leg supplied electricity, but Alessandro Volta thought otherwise, and he built the voltaic pile, an early type of battery, as proof. Continuous current from batteries smoothed the way for the discovery of G. S. Ohm's law (pub. 1827), relating current, voltage (electromotive force), and resistance (see Ohm's law), and of J. P. Joule's law of electrical heating (pub. 1841). Ohm's law and the rules discovered later by G. R. Kirchhoff regarding the sum of the currents and the sum of the voltages in a circuit (see Kirchhoff's laws) are the basic means of making circuit calculations.

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