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1.3 The Journey to the Electric Wire Part 1

Let’s go over early electricity. But first we have to go over early science.

We start with Stephen Gray who explored the phenomena of electricity in the early 1700s and talk about his wacky experiments involving suspending children from threads, rubbing giant fishing poles with glass rods that he suspends from balconies strung into gardens and courtyards, and other strange contraptions. I also take jabs at Isaac Newton because low-key, even 293 years later he still deserves it

The IEEE article with the diagram I talk about in the episode is from Electrostatic
Telegraphy—1753–1816 by Adam Allerhand. In case the link changes in the future, I took a screenshot of the diagram and put a copy of it below Without Permission (please don’t sue me).
Another quote I wanted to use for the episode but couldn’t find a place comes from page 462 of The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol 251, Dec 31, 1881:

What strikes us most about him [Gray], as distinguishing him from other men of science, is that to him scientific research is a pastime and a delight. He does not assume to himself the airs and attributes of a god, and at the same time assume to deny the existence of any God. He does not shut himself up in his own greatness, nor sneer at the greatness of others; he wishes for no better pursuit than that he is following, and is not ashamed to be a poor brother of the Charter house at the same time.


  1. A Dissertation Concerning Electricity John Theophilus Desaguliers January 1, 1742
    W. Innys, and T. Longman.
  2. The Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c, January 1, 1837 W.A. Scripps
  3. A History of science: Volume 2, Henry Smith Williams January 1, 1904 Harper
  4. Lexicon technicum, or, An universal English dictionary of arts and sciences : explaining not only the terms of art, but the arts themselves John Harris, 1708
  5. The Philadelphia Medical Dictionary: Containing a Concise Explanation of All the Terms Used in Medicine, Surgery, Pharmacy, Botany, Natural History, Chymistry, and Materia Medica, John Redman Coxe, January 1, 1808 T. Dobson
  6. The Manuscript Letters of Stephen Gray, F.R.S. (1666/7-1736)
    Robert A. Chipman, Isis Vol. 49, No. 4 (Dec., 1958), pp. 414-433

Also, is a pretty good 1-page breakdown on Gray.

The Philosophical Transaction articles are in a giant archive I have (which I created an index and searchable database for) so it’s not immediately linkable.  The titles of the articles are as follows:

  1. “Two Letters from Mr. Stephen Gray, F. R. S. to C. Mortimer, M. D. Secr. R. S. Containing Farther Accounts of His Experiments concerning Electricity” January 1731.
  2. “A Letter to Cromwell Mortimer, M. D. Secr. R. S. Containing Several Experiments concerning Electricity; By Mr. Stephen Gray” February 1731.

PS: I did actually go over to Wikipedia and remove that sentence in the Gray article I took issue with in the episode. Hopefully it either stays removed or someone comes back and demonstrates how wrong I am. I warmly welcome both.

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