The Glass Armonica descends from ancient experiments of playing glass bowls containing various amounts of water. A set of glasses in this fashion can be played by rubbing wet fingers around the rims of so-called musical glasses. In 1638, Galileo Galilei published a paper called "Two New Sciences." He speaks of resonance phenomena between wine glasses and viloins, and then of brass bowls emitting a whistle, strong and clear when scraped with a sharp chisel.

It came to pass that Benjamin Franklin, who was muscially inclined, attended a concert at which glasses were tuned and played as above-mentioned. Impressed, he wished to see a more playable and convenient layout of the glasses. As an inventor, he put his mind to work on the subject, and the result was an elegant design which required neither water nor tuning. The issue of tuning was addressed by varying the size and thickness of each glass, thus requiring no water. For convenience and playability, he nested the glasses inside each other (not in contact with each other however) and mounted them on a spindle which was turned via a foot treadle. Franklin became quite enamored of this, his invention, and brought it along to parties.

At home, Franklin enjoyed playing his armonica in duets with his daughter, Sally Franklin. She played the harpsichord.

(Information herein gleaned from
(Thanks TenMinJoe for pointing out that Wikipedia now has information on Sally Frankin. Node updated accordingly.)

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