Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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KINNERSLEY, Ebenezer, electrician, born in Gloucester, England, 30 November, 1711; died in Lower Dublin, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 4 July, 1778. He was a son of Reverend William Kinnersley, an assistant pastor of the Lower Dublin Baptist church, and came to this country with his parents in 1714. His early life was passed at Dublin, and then he went to Philadelphia, where he gave evidence of his genius as a scholar and mechanician. It is supposed that he taught a school there and associated with Benjamin Franklin, who soon learned to appreciate young Kinnersley, whom he designates as "an ingenious neighbor." When Franklin saw Dr. Spence, a Scotchman in Boston, experiment with a glass tube and silk, and observed the effects that were produced, he communicated the fact to his associates in Philadelphia, and soon a hundred tubes were in use. Among those who devoted special attention to the subject were Franklin, Kinnersley, Philip Syng, and Thomas Hopkinson. Mr. Kinnersley, being out of business, devoted all his time to the subject, and in a couple of years the discoveries that were made were such as to astound the learned of Europe, to whom they were communicated by Franklin in his letters to the well-known Peter Collinson, of London, by whom they were published. It was thus that "The Philadelphia experiments" became known and the names of Franklin and Kinnersley were prominently associated with them and the discoveries that were made. The electric fire, as it was then termed, was a subject that engrossed scientific scholars in England and on the continent of Europe, but the Philadelphia philosophers appeared to surpass all in their discoveries. In 1748 Kinnersley demonstrated that the electric fluid actually passed through water, and proved it by a trough ten feet long full of water. He also invented the " magical picture " referred to by the Abbe Nollet, and produced the ringing of chimes of bells. In 1751 he began delivering lectures on "The Newly Discovered Electrical Fire "--the first of the kind in America or Europe. His advertisement in the "Pennsylvania Gazette" of 11 April, 1751, is as follows: "Notice is hereby given to the Curious, that Wednesday next, Mr. Kinnersley proposes to begin a course of experiments on the newly discovered Electrical .Fire, containing not only the most curious of those that have been made and published in Europe, but a considerable number of new ones lately made in this city, to be accompanied with methodical Lectures on the nature and properties of that wonderful element." These lectures proved a complete success, and were attended by persons of all classes. In September, 1751, he went to Boston with a letter from Franklin to Governor James Bowdoin, and delivered his lectures in Faneuil hall. The governor said they "were pleasing to all sorts of people and were very curious." While at Boston he continued his experiments and discovered the difference between the electricity that was produced by the glass and sulphur globes, which he at once communicated to Franklin at Philadelphia. Until then the theory of Du Fay as to the vitreous and resinous electricity was generally adopted, but now Kinnersley showed beyond a doubt that the positive and negative theory was correct. From Boston he went to Newport, Rhode Island, and in March, 1752, repeated his lectures there and suggested how houses and barns might be protected from lightning. This was three months before the time that Franklin drew the electricity from the clouds. He then visited New York and lectured on the subject. In 1753 Mr. Kinnersley was elected chief master in the College of Philadelphia, and in 1755 he was appointed professor of English and oratory, holding the office until 1772, when, owing to failing health, he resigned. In 1757 Dr. Franklin went to London as agent for Pennsylvania. Mr. Kinnersley continued his experiments, invented an electrical thermometer, and proved that heat could be produced by electricity, which was not known before. In 1764 he published a syllabus of his lectures on electricity, a copy of which is in the Philadelphia library. This pamphlet gave in detail most of the experiments that he performed, among others an orrery propelled by electricity; and he suggested that perhaps the solar system might be sustained in the same way. In this country he was better known than Franklin, and even in Europe his name was very frequently mentioned, as may be seen in Dr. Joseph Priestley's "History of Electricity," and in a volume published by the Abbe Beccaria, of the University of Turin. Both have paid Professor Kinnersley high honor. He became a member of the Lower Dublin Baptist church while young, and in 1743 was ordained as a minister, but he never acted as a pastor. The American philosophical society chose him as a member, and the degree of M. A. was conferred upon him by the College of Philadelphia. There is a window in his memory at the University of Pennsylvania.
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