Henry Cavendish

A Brief History of Electricity- Avery Buseman


Name- Henry Cavendish

When did they live?- October 10, 1731- February 24, 1810

Where did they live and work?- Lived and worked in his father’s home in London, England

What was their profession?- Scientific Researched- Self employed. He never actually had to prepare for a profession, and never wanted to go outside the work of science. He became wealthy through his relatives, and he shunned the outside world because he thought everything they did was to complicated.

Interesting Facts about them: During the time he lived most of the people in science were all middle class. He was one of the very first who came from a high aristocratic lineage, but no one ever referred to him as honorable. He completed 3 full years of college at Peterhouse in Cambridge, but dropped out and never earned his degree.


What was their idea/discovery?- He was the first person to discover dielectrics and what they are used for. He also measured the strength of a current.

Explain- If a material is a dielectric material it means that it is a poor conductor of electricity. But, it is also efficiently supports electrostatic fields. Dielectric materials are used in the construction of radio-frequency transmission lines. It has the ability to support an electrostatic field while dissipating very minimal energy in the form of heat. The more dielectric it is the lower the loss of electricity in the form of heat will be. Also, when dielectrics are between plates the plates can hold a much greater quantity of charge since the capacitance is increased. With current, it is the flow of electric charge across a surface which we now know is at the rate of one coulomb per second.

How?- He measured the strength of a current by shocking himself and estimating the magnitude of the pain.

When?- Late 1700s - Early 1800s

What inventions did they make?- He didn't actually create anything other than a balance to calculate the Earth density, but he discovered hydrogen and measured the density of the Earth.

Explain- He calculated the attraction between balls that had been placed on a torsion balance.

When?- 1797–1798


What did they change about the understanding of electricity?- Because of dielectrics people then knew that they were poor conductors. They could then use different materials based on if they were dielectric or not to be able to have more or less energy depending on if it was a good or poor conductor.

How did society react? Why?- Although his discoveries were very important to the understanding of some things in electricity many people didn’t know about them at the time. He didn’t publish a lot of his work if he didn’t think it was absolutely perfect, but it turns out that most of his unpublished work ended up having a large impact on the science community. Some of his discoveries weren’t made known to the public until much later when they were revisited by different scientists.