I was wondering if there are references to static electricity in any classic works. I understand There were many people experimenting with it over the millennia, but was it also a common household occurrence? You know, wear certain clothes, touch a certain metal, and Zap!

Someone claimed that static electricity only became a common occurrence after synthetic material became widespread which aids in helping the charge. I have not found any helpful leads researching this online.

Is there documentation regarding any of this?

  • 1
    Das ist irrelevant on this forum.
    – Badalyan
    Feb 3, 2015 at 17:45
  • Which are you asking? Whether static electricity was common prior to synthetics, or when static electricity was first described in a historical document? Very different questions.
    – MCW
    Feb 3, 2015 at 17:48
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    Static electricity existed prior to the human presence on the planet. There are experimental records of people producing static electricity - those might indicate that it was uncommon but reproducible. Then there is the thesis that it was uncommon before synthetics; that is a different question.
    – MCW
    Feb 3, 2015 at 17:58
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    How long have people kept cats as pets, and stroked them?
    – jamesqf
    Feb 3, 2015 at 20:51
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    Rubbing cat's fur on amber is an old, well-known way to generate a spark of static electricity. Both have been used by humans for thousands of years. Feb 4, 2015 at 4:09

1 Answer 1


The first verifiable mention I could find was in Theophrastus (circa 300 BC):

[Lyngourion] has the power of attraction, just as amber has, and some say that it not only attracts straws and bits of wood, but also copper and iron, if the pieces are this, as Diokles used to explain. -- Theophrastus

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    +1 for your time and effort, but this is not what I am looking for. I am looking for reference as a common occurrence, not as a scientific experiment. Ty again though.
    – user6591
    Feb 5, 2015 at 0:12
  • @user6591: I think the problem might be that it was both too common and too insignificant to be written down.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 5, 2015 at 5:13
  • @user6591 Getting zapped by static electricity was not a "common occurrence" until synthetic fibers were developed in the 1950s. Feb 5, 2015 at 5:37
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    @Tyler That was one of the theories mentioned in the question. See in the comments for a rejection of this assertion based on the availability of animal fur.
    – user6591
    Feb 5, 2015 at 13:58
  • @user6591 That is not right, animal fur will not normally develop enough electricity to deliver a painful shock. Feb 5, 2015 at 14:16

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