Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

A Letter from Dr. B. FRANKLIN to Dr. INGENHAUSZ, Physician to the Emperor, at Vienna, on the Causes and Cures of Smokey Chimneys

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

A Letter from Dr. B. FRANKLIN to Dr. INGENHAUSZ, Physician to the Emperor, at Vienna, on the Causes and Cures of Smokey Chimneys

Article excerpt

Dear Friend, At sea, August 28th, 1785.

Read 21st Oct. 1785.

IN one of your letters, a little before I left France, you desire me to give y0U ļn writing my thoughts upon the construction and use of chimneys, a subject you had sometimes heard me touch upon in conversation. I embrace willingly this leisure afforded by my present situation to comply with your request, as it will not only show my regard to the desires of a friend, but may at the same time be of some utility to others; the doctrine of chimneys appearing not to be as yet generally well understood, and mistakes respecting them being attended with constant inconvenience, if not remedied; and with fruitless experience, if the true remedies are mistaken.

Those who would be acquainted with this subject should begin by considering on what principle smoke ascends in any chimney. At first many are apt to think that smoke is in its nature and of itself specifically lighter than air, and rises in it for the same reason that cork rises in water. These see no cause why smoke should not rise in the chimney, though the room be ever so close. Others think there is a power in chimneys to draw up the smoke, and that there are different forms of chimneys that afford more or less of this power. These amuse themselves with searching for the best form. The equal dimensions of a funnel in its whole length is not thought artificial enough, and it is made, for fancied reasons, sometimes tapering and narrowing from below upwards, and sometimes the contrary, &c. &c. A simple experiment or two may serve to give more correct ideas. Having lit a pipe of tobacco, plunge the stem to the bottom of a decanter half filled with cold water; then putting a rag over the bowl, blow through it and make the smoke descend in the stem of the pipe, from the end of which it will rise in bubbles through the water; and being thus cooled, will not afterwards rise to go out through the neck of the decanter, but remain spreading itself and resting on the surface of the water. This shows that smoke is really heavier than air, and that it is carried upwards only when attached to, or acted upon, by air that is heated, and thereby rarefied and rendered specifically lighter than the air in its neighbourhood.

Smoke being rarely seen but in company with heated air, and its upward motion being visible, though that of the rarefied air that drives it is not so, has naturally given rise to the error.

I need not explain to you, my learned friend, what is meant by rarefied air; but if you make the public use you propose of this letter, it may fall into the hands of some who are unacquainted with the term and with the thing. These then may be told, that air is a fluid which has weight as well as others, though about eight hundred times lighter than water. That heat makes the particles of air recede from each other and take up more space, so that the same weight of air heated will have more bulk, than equal weights of cold air which may surround it, and in that case must rise, being forced upwards by such colder and heavier air, which presses to get under it and take its place. That air is so rarefied or expanded by heat, may be proved to their comprehension by a lank blown bladder, which laid before a fire will soon swell, grow tight and burst.

Another experiment may be to take a glass tube about an inch in diameter, and twelve inches long, open at both ends and fixed upright on legs so that it need not be handled, for the hands might warm it. At the end of a quill fasten five or six inches of the finest light filament of silk, so that it may be held either above the upper end of the tube or under the lower end, your warm hand being at a distance by the length of the quill. If there were any motion of air through the tube, it would manifest itself by its effect on the silk; but if the tube and the air in it are of the same temperature with the surrounding air, there will be no such motion, whatever may be the form of the tube, whether crooked or strait, narrow below and widening upwards, or the contrary; the air in it will be quiescent. …

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