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 A Foil for Franklin and the Promoter of the Leyden Jar - 1753
L’abbé Jean-Antoine Nollet (1700 - 1770)


l'Abbe Nollet
 (1700 - 1770)

Jean Antione Nollet was born in 1700 near Oise, France.  Although he was head of a monastery, he spent a great deal of time on the investigation of electricity and became one of the noted authorities of his time. In 1745 he developed a theory of electrical attraction and repulsion that supposed the existence of a continuous flow of electrical matter between charged bodies. Nollet’s theory at first gained wide acceptance, but met its nemesis in 1852 with the publication of the French translation of Franklin’s Experiments and Observations on Electricity. Franklin and Nollet found themselves on opposite sides of current debate about the nature of electricity, with Franklin supporting action at a distance and two qualitatively opposing types of electricity, and Nollet advocating mechanical action and a single type of electric fluid. Franklin's argument eventually won and Nollet’s theory was abandoned.

Nollet is said to be responsible for one of the most impressive and spectacular demonstrations of electricity up to that time.  As the story goes, Abbe Nollet first sent a discharge from a Leyden jar through a company of 180 soldiers holding hands.  This demonstration was before King Louis XV at Versailles.  The King was both impressed and amused as the soldiers all jumped simultaneously when the circuit was completed.  The King requested that the experiment be repeated in Paris.  In the second demonstration, 700 monks in a line received the same treatment.  Nollet is reputed to be the man who first applied the name "Leyden jar" to the first device for storing electricity.2

Recherches sur les Causes Particulieres des Phenomenes Electriques
l'Abbe Nollet
1753

 

Lettres sur l Electricite
l'Abbe Nollet
1753

Nollet's Recherches (above left) provide one of the earliest detailed treatise on electricity.  His Lettres sur l Electricite (above right) contain his correspondence with Benjamin Franklin by whom he attacks the electric theories . 'Nollet recognized these menaces and replied in an amusing set of "Lettres sur l'électricité (1753)", containing a wealth of counterexamples which drew their strength from Franklin's occasional obscurities, imprecision's, exaggerations, and inappropriate appeals to traditional effluvial models''10  (and which were very important to Franklin’s research)7,8
 

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