Early Leyden Jar

Early Leyden Jar STEM World History Education

When Pieter van Musschenbroek first invented the Leyden Jar, he did not use metal foil inside and outside the glass jar.  The use of metal foil came later.

The Dutch Professor filled the glass jar with water, as depicted in this image from an 1898 physics textbook, and the water formed the inner plate of the capacitor (as we would call the device today).

How was the water charged, and discharged, with electricity?  In other words, how did the Leyden Jar work?  According to the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory:

...the very first one, which consisted (reportedly) of a beer glass filled with water (which, unless distilled, is a conductor) into which a nail was inserted through a stopper made of an insulating material such as cork.

Why did the experimenters use a nail and a cork stopper?  When the nail made contact with the water, the water would be charged with electricity:

The jar was held in the hand, and the (grounded) hand on the outside of the jar formed the other plate of the capacitor.

Once charged, the jar could be discharged by approaching the nail with a finger as shown. The charge from the water would jump via a spark to the hand, and flow through the body to the other hand holding the jar, neutralizing the opposite charge there. This often resulted in a nasty shock.

Even Professor van Musschenbroek received a powerful shock.  He vowed, thereafter, never to put himself through such a nasty experience again.

Media Credits

Cropped image (Figure 64 at page 107) from the Fifth Edition of "Magnetism and Electricity," by W. Jerome Harrison and Charles A. White, published in London, during 1898.  Online, courtesy Google Books.




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"Early Leyden Jar" AwesomeStories.com. May 23, 2014. Jun 03, 2020.
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