Geek Trivia

The Speed Of Electricity Was First Measured By What Method?

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Shocking Monks with a Battery
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Answer: Shocking Monks with a Battery

The first scientific, albeit unconventional, measurement of the speed of electricity was conducted in 1764 by French physicist Jean-Antoine Nollet.

In order to test the speed of electrical transmission he gathered together one very large spool of iron wire, roughly two hundred monks, and a large array of Leyden Jars (an early and primitive type of battery). The monks disbursed themselves in a large circle approximately a mile in circumference and Nollet discharged the contents of the Leyden Jar battery into the iron wire.

Nollet was unable to successfully measure the actual speed of electricity with the experiment as all the monks reacted simultaneously to the electric shock, leaving him to simply note that the transmission speed of electricity was extremely high.

If you’re curious how Nollet was able to find so many monks and convince them to participate in an experiment involving electrical shocks, it’s worth noting that in addition to his role as an early physicist he was also the Abbot of a large French monastery.