Ben Franklin's Doodle of a Torricellian Tube Is Detailed and Endearing

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Benjamin Franklin, before he became an author and an ambassador and a political revolutionary, was a nerd. Toward the end of his final stay in England, in the mid-1770s, the future Founding Father and former kite enthusiast championed the work of the English scientist John Walsh, who had been studying electricity as it was transmitted through the body of the torpedo fish (also known as the eyed electric ray). 

Walsh, by way of that research, made "a curious Discovery in Electricity." Which Franklin in turn described in a letter to his friend Jan Ingenhousz that's been highlighted by Harvard's Houghton Library

Mr. Walsh, (one of whose Papers on the Torpedo I shall, to save Postage, send you thro' the Hands of the Ambassador) has just made a curious Discovery in Electricity. You know we find that in rarify'd Air it would pass more freely, and leap thro' greater Spaces than in dense Air; and thence it was concluded that in a perfect Vacuum it would pass any distance without the least Obstruction. But having made a perfect Vacuum by means of boil'd Mercury in a long Torricellian bent Tube, its Ends immers'd in Cups full of Mercury, he finds that the Vacuum will not conduct at all, but resists the Passage of the Electric Fluid absolutely, as much as if it was Glass itself. This may lead to new Principles and new Views in the atmospheric Part of Philosophy.
To make things extra-clear for Ingenhousz, Franklin included a doodle of the perfect Vacuum -- a Torricellian tube -- complete with an impressive level of detail, particularly considering the fact that it was etched with a quill.

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Images via Harvard's Houghton Library, its Autograph File, and its excellent blog.
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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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