The history of electricity was at first the history of the “amber effect,” that is, of the “attraction” for light objects displayed by rubbed amber. This effect was well known in antiquity and was coupled and confused with the attraction for iron by the loadstone. The earliest explanations of these phenomena were anthropomorphic, being followed, in classical antiquity, by teleological organismic explanations and also materialistic mechanistic explanations. In the 15th century the lack of a directive (north-south) property in amber was noticed. By the 16th century several substances exhibiting the amber effect were known. From this time onward, attempts were made to provide a theory for the amber effect independently of magnetic phenomena. Effluvium theories, so important in the later history of electricity, first began to develop in the 16th century. The present paper covers the period up to the work of Gilbert in 1600.

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