Monday, April 8, 2019

June 2018 Zach's Facts - Ben Franklin's Glass Armonica

Many of you, I’m sure, have sat around a dinner table with a crystal glass, wetted your finger and
rubbed it along the rim to produce a bell like tone and thought to yourself, wow what a cool sound!
Well you are not alone, a Mr. Ben Franklin thought the same thing. Back in his day, while touring
Europe on his civic duties for the colonies of the United States, Ben saw many musicians performing
enchanting melodies on glasses. Inspired by these events the ever-inventive Franklin sought to create
an instrument that would allow the players to produce chords and more complex melodies. Working
with a glass blower in London, Franklin invented the “glass armonica.” It made playing the glasses akin
to playing a piano. The glasses were laid on their sides with a rod going through that was connected to
a foot pedal allowing the player to spin the glasses and with wet fingers could easily produce the sound.
No longer was water required to tune the glasses the different bowls were measured to the appropriate
size and density to produce the right note. The instrument was an immediate success with composers
such as Mozart and Beethoven writing music for it. Franklin called it the most satisfying of his many
inventions, but why then did it fall to obscurity by the 1820s? Unfortunately, some people believed it
was a cursed instrument, the high pitched frequencies caused illness or madness or conjured ghosts.
After the death of a child in Germany during a performance the instrument was banned in several towns.
It’s important to note that none of these claims were ever proven and Franklin enjoyed playing the
instrument until he died without experiencing any of these “side effects.” Despite the popularity,
Franklin never made a dime off of his invention, he said quote ”As we enjoy great Advantages from the
Inventions of others we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and
this we should do freely and generously." Great words to live by Ben!

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