King's College London
Online Exhibitions
To scrutinize the whole of Nature: The Royal Society and its fellows 1660-1730

Hauksbee and Newton

Hawksbee's "chaffing machine", used for the study of static electricity, from: Francis Hauksbee. Physico-mechanical experiments on various subjects: containing an account of several surprizing phenomena touching light and electricity, producible on the attrition of bodies. The second edition. London: printed for J. Senex and W. Taylor, 1719 [Rare Books Collection QC123.H29]Hawksbee's "chaffing machine", used for the study of static electricity, from: Francis Hauksbee. Physico-mechanical experiments on various subjects: containing an account of several surprizing phenomena touching light and electricity, producible on the attrition of bodies. The second edition. London: printed for J. Senex and W. Taylor, 1719 [Rare Books Collection QC123.H29]Francis Hauksbee (1660-1713), a mathematical and scientific instrument maker by trade, was the chief demonstrator at the Royal Society between 1703 and his death ten years later.

He owed his position to Isaac Newton and the two men worked closely together. The results of a number of Hauksbee’s experiments, particularly those on phosphorescence, static electricity and capillary rise had a considerable influence on Newton’s scientific thought and were incorporated into his revisions of both Opticks (1706 and 1718) and Principia (1713). Hauksbee, in his turn, derived his theoretical principles from Newton and was guided by Newton’s comments and suggestions for experiments.

Although he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1705, Hauksbee’s humble social status ensured that he was viewed as a servant rather than as a natural philosopher by Newton and the other members of the Society. However, his Physico-mechanical experiments, first published in 1709, and later translated into French, Italian and Dutch, helped to establish an international reputation for Hauksbee, and scholars such as Abraham Vater (1684-1751) and Zaccharius von Uffenbach (1683-1734) sought him out on their visits to London.

Shown here is Hauksbee’s chaffing machine with which he conducted many experiments on static electricity.

ARCHIOS™ | Total time:0.1994 s | Source:cache