The Montgomery Family
An historical and photographic perspective

Benjamin Franklin by Mason Chamberlin, 1762
Benjamin Franklin by Mason Chamberlin, 1762
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Cooling by Evaporation


New York, 14 April, 1757.


It is a long time since I had the pleasure of a line from you ; and, indeed, the troubles of our country, with the hurry of business I have been engaged in on that account, have made me so bad a correspondent, that I ought not to expect punctuality in others.

But, being about to embark for England, I could not quit the continent without paying my respects to you, and, at the same time, taking leave to introduce to your acquaintance a gentleman of learning and merit, Colonel Henry Bouquet, who does me the favor to present you this letter, and with whom I am sure you will be much pleased.

Professor Simpson, of Glasgow, lately communicated to me some curious experiments of a physician of his acquaintance, by which it appeared, that an extraordinary degree of cold, even to freezing, might be produced by evaporation. I have not had leisure to repeat and examine more than the first and easiest of them, viz. Wet the ball of a thermometer by a feather dipped in spirit of wine, which has been kept in the same room, and has, of course, the same degree of heat or cold. The mercury sinks presently three or four degrees, and the quicker, if, during the evaporation, you blow on the ball with bellows; a second wetting and blowing, when the mercury is down, carries it yet lower. I think I did not get it lower than five or six degrees from where it naturally stood, which was, at that time, sixty. But it is said, that a vessel of water being placed in another somewhat larger, containing spirit, in such a manner that the vessel of water is surrounded with the spirit, and both placed under the receiver of an air-pump; on exhausting the air, the spirit, evaporating, leaves such a degree of cold as to freeze the water, though the thermometer, in the open air, stands many degrees above the freezing point.

I know not how this phenomenon is to be accounted for; but it gives me occasion to mention some loose notions relating to heat and cold, which I have for some time entertained, but not yet reduced into any form. Allowing common fire, as well as electrical, to be a fluid capable of permeating other bodies, and seeking an equilibrium, I imagine some bodies are better fitted by nature to be conductors of that fluid than others; and that, generally, those which are the best conductors of the electrical fluid, are also the best conductors of this; and e contra. Thus a body which is a good conductor of fire readily receives it into its substance, and conducts it through the whole to all the parts, as metals and water do; and if two bodies, both good conductors, one heated, the other in its common state, are brought into contact with each other, the body which has most fire readily communicates of it to that which had least, and that which had least readily receives it, till an equilibrium is produced. Thus, if you take a dollar between your fingers with one hand, and a piece of wood, of the same dimensions, with the other, and bring both at the same time to the flame of a candle, you will find yourself obliged to drop the dollar before you drop the wood, because it conducts the heat of the candle sooner to your flesh. Thus, if a silver tea-pot had a handle of the same metal, it would conduct the heat from the water to the hand, and become too hot to be used; we therefore give to a metal tea-pot a handle of wood, which is not so good a conductor as metal. But a china or stone tea-pot being in some degree of the nature of glass, which is not a good conductor of heat, may have a handle of the same stuff'. Thus, also, a damp moist air shall make a man more sensible of cold, or chill him more, than a dry air that is colder, because a moist air is fitter to receive and conduct away the heat of his body. This fluid, entering bodies

in great quantity first expands them by separating their parts a little, afterwards, by farther separating their parts, it renders solids iluid, and at length dissipates their parts in air. Take this fluid from melted lead, or from water, the parts cohere again; the first grows solid, the latter becomes ice; and this is sooner done by the means of good conductors. Thus, if you take, as I have done, a square bar of lead, four inches long, and one inch thick, together with three pieces of wood planed to the same dimensions, and lay them, as in the margin, on a smooth board, fixed so as not to be easily separated or moved, and pour into the cavity they form, as much melted lead as will fill it, you will see the melted lead chill, and become firm, on the side next the leaden bar, some time before it chills on the other three sides in contact with the wooden bars, though, before the lead was poured in, they might all be supposed to have the same degree of heat or coldness, as they had been exposed in the same room to the same air. You will likewise observe, that the leaden bar, as it has cooled the melted lead more than the wooden bars have done, so it is itself more heated by the melted lead. There is a certain quantity of this fluid, called fire, in every living human body, which fluid, being in due proportion, keeps the parts of the flesh and blood at such a just distance from each other, as that the flesh and nerves are supple, and the blood fit for circulation. If part of this due proportion of fire be conducted away, by means of a contact with other bodies, as air, water, or metals, the parts of our skin and flesh that come into such contact first draw more near together than is agreeable, and give that sensation which we call cold; and if too much be conveyed away, the body stiffens, the blood ceases to flow, and death ensues. On the other hand, if too much of this fluid be communicated to the flesh, the parts are separated too far, and pain ensues, as when they are separated by a pin or lancet. The sensation, that the separation by fire occasions, we call heat, or burning. My desk on which I now write, and the lock of my desk, are both exposed to the same temperature of the air, and have therefore the same degree of heat or cold; yet if I lay my hand successively on the wood and on the metal, the latter feels much the coldest, not that it is really so, but, being a better conductor, it more readily than the wood takes away and draws into itself the fire that was in my skin. Accordingly if I lay one hand, part on the lock, and part on the wood, and, after it has lain so some time, I feel both parts with my other hand, I find the part that has been in contact with the lock, very sensibly colder to the touch, than the part that lay on the wood. How a living animal obtains its quantity of this fluid, called fire, is a curious question. I have shown, that some bodies (as metals) have a power of attracting it stronger than others; and I have sometimes suspected, that a living body had some power of attracting out of the air, or other bodies, the heat it wanted. Thus metals hammered, or repeatedly bent, grow hot in the bent or hammered part . But when I consider that air, in contact with the body, cools it; that the surrounding air is rather heated by its contact with the body; that every breath of cooler air, drawn in, carries oft' part of the body's heat when it passes out again; that therefore there must be in the body a fund for producing it, or otherwise the animal would soon grow cold; I have been rather inclined to think, that the fluid fire, as well as the fluid car, is attracted by plants in their growth, and becomes consolidated with the other materials of which they are formed, and makes a great part of their substance ; that, when they come to be digested, and to suffer in the vessels a kind of fermentation, part of the fire, as well as part of the air, recovers its fluid, active state again, and diffuses itself in the body digesting and separating it; that the fire, so reproduced by digestion and separation, continually leaving the body, its place is supplied by fresh quantities, arising from the continual separation; that whatever quickens the motion of the fluids in an animal quickens the separation, and reproduces more of the fire, as exercise; that all the fire emitted by wood, and other combustibles, when burning, existed in them before, in a solid state, being only discovered when separating; that some fossils, as sulphur, seacoal, &c., contain a great deal of solid fire; and that, in short, what escapes and is dissipated In the burning of bodies, besides water and earth, is generally the air and fire that before made parts of the solid. Thus I imagine, that animal heat arises by or from a kind of fermentation in the juices of the body, in the same manner as heat arises in the liquors preparing for distillation, wherein there is a separation of the spirituous, from the watery and earthy parts. And it is remarkable, that the liquor in a distiller's vat, when in its highest and best state of fermentation, as I have been informed, has the same degree of heat with the human body, that is, about 94 or 96.

Thus, as by a constant supply of fuel in a chimney, you keep a warm room, so, by a constant supply of food in the stomach, you keep a warm body; only, where little exercise is used, the heat may possibly be conducted away too fast; in which case such materials are to be used for clothing and bedding, against the effects of an immediate contact of the air, as are, in themselves, bad conductors of heat, and, consequently, prevent its being communicated through their substance to the air. Hence what is called warmth in wool, and its preference, on that account, to linen; wool not being so good a conductor; and hence all the natural coverings of animals, to keep them warm, are such as retain and confine the natural heat in the. body, by being bad conductors, such as wool, hair, feathers, and the silk by which the silk-worm, in its tender embryo state, is first clothed. Clothing, thus considered, does not make a man warm by giving warmth, but by preventing the too quick dissipation of the heat produced in his body, and so occasioning an accumulation.

There is another curious question I will just venture to touch upon, viz. Whence arises the sudden extraordinary degree of cold, perceptible on mixing some chemical liquors, and even on mixing salt and snow, where the composition appears colder than the coldest of the ingredients ? I have never seen the chemical mixtures made; but salt and snow I have often mixed myself, and am fully satisfied that the composition feels much colder to the touch, and lowers the mercury in the thermometer more, than either ingredient would do separately. I suppose, with others, that cold is nothing more than the absence of heat or fire. Now, if the quantity of fire before contained or diffused in the snow and salt was expelled in the uniting of the two matters, it must be driven away either through the air or the vessel containing them. If it is driven off through the air, it must warm the air; and a thermometer held over the mixture, without touching it, would discover the heat, by the rising of the mercury, as it must, and always does, in warm air.

This, indeed, I have not tried, but I should guess it

VOL. VI. 27 R*

would rather be driven off through the vessel, especially if the vessel be metal, as being a better conductor than air; and so one should find the basin warmer after such mixture. But, on the contrary, the vessel grows cold, and even water, in which the vessel is sometimes placed for the experiment, freezes into hard ice on the basin. Now I know not how to account for this, otherwise than by supposing, that the composition is a better conductor of fire than the ingredients separately, and, like the lock compared with the wood, has a stronger power of attracting fire, and does accordingly attract it suddenly from the fingers, or a thermometer put into it, from the basin that contains it, and from the water in contact with the outside of the basin; so that the fingers have the sensation of extreme cold, by being deprived of much of their natural fire; the thermometer sinks, by having part of its fire drawn out of the mercury; the basin grows colder to the touch, as, by having its fire drawn into the mixture, it is become more capable of drawing and receiving it from the hand; and, through the basin, the water loses its fire that kept it fluid ; so it becomes ice. One would expect, that from all this attracted acquisition of fire to the composition, it should become warmer; and, in fact, the snow and salt dissolve at the same time into water, without freezing.

I am, Sir,

B. Franklin


To John Lining

Dear Sir, London, June 17, 1758.

In a former letter I mentioned the experiment for cooling bodies by evaporation, and that I had, by repeatedly wetting the thermometer with common spirits, brought the mercury down five or six degrees. Being lately at Cambridge, and mentioning this in conversation with Dr. Hadley, professor of chemistry there, he proposed repeating the experiments with ether, instead of common spirits, as the ether is much quicker in evaporation. We accordingly went to his chamber, where he had both ether and a thermometer. By dipping first the ball of the thermometer into the ether, it appeared that the ether was precisely of the same temperament with the thermometer, which stood then at 65; for it made no alteration in the height of the little column of mercury. But when the thermometer was taken out of the ether, and the ether with which the ball was wet, began to evaporate, the mercury sunk several degrees. The wetting was then repeated by a feather that had been dipped into the ether, when the mercury sunk still lower. We continued this operation, one of us wetting the ball, and another of the company blowing on it with the bellows, to quicken the evaporation, the mercury sinking all the time, till it came down to 7, which is 25 degrees below the freezing point, when we left off. -- Soon after it passed the freezing point, a thin coat of ice began to cover the ball. Whether this was water collected and condensed by the coldness of the ball, from the moisture in the air, or from our breath; or whether the feather, when dipped into the ether, might not sometimes go through it, and bring up some of the water that was under it, I am not certain; perhaps all might contribute. The ice continued increasing till we ended the experiment, when it appeared near a quarter of an inch thick all over the ball, with a number of small spicula, pointing outwards. From this experiment one may see the possibility of freezing a man to death on a warm summer's day, if he were to stand in a passage thro' which the wind blew briskly, and to be wet frequently with ether, a spirit that is more inflammable than brandy, or common spirits of wine.

It is but within these few years, that the European philosophers seem to have known this power in nature, of cooling bodies by evaporation. But in the east they have long been acquainted with it. A friend tells me, there is a passage in Bernier's travels throughIndostan, written near one hundred years ago, that mentions it as a practice (in travelling over dry desarts in that hot climate) to carry water in flasks wrapt in wet woollen cloths, and hung on the shady side of the camel, or carriage, but in the free air; whereby, as the cloths gradually grow drier, the water contained in the flasks is made cool. They have likewise a kind of earthen pots, unglaz'd, which let the water gradually and slowly ooze through their pores, so as to keep the outside a little wet, notwithstanding the continual evaporation, which gives great coldness to the vessel, and the water contained in it. Even our common sailors seem to have had some notion of this property; for I remember, that being at sea, when I was a youth, I observed one of the sailors, during a calm in the night, often wetting his finger in his mouth, and then holding it up in the air, to discover, as he said, if the air had any motion, and from which side it came; and this he expected to do, by finding one side of his finger grow suddenly cold, and from that side he should look for the next wind; which I then laughed at as a fancy.

May not several phaenomena, hitherto unconsidered, or unaccounted for, be explained by this property? During the hot Sunday at Philadelphia, in June 1750, when the thermometer was up at 100 in the shade, I sat in my chamber without exercise, only reading or writing, with no other cloaths on than a shirt, and a pair of long linen drawers, the windows all open, and a brisk wind blowing through the house, the sweat ran off the backs of my hands, and my shirt was often so wet, as to induce me to call for dry ones to put on; in this situation, one might have expected, that the natural heat of the body 96, added to the heat of the air 100, should jointly have created or produced a much greater degree of heat in the body; but the fact was, that my body never grew so hot as the air that surrounded it, or the inanimate bodies immers'd in the same air. For I remember well, that the desk, when I laid my arm upon it; a chair, when I sat down in it; and a dry shirt out of the drawer, when I put it on, all felt exceeding warm to me, as if they had been warmed before a fire. And I suppose a dead body would have acquired the temperature of the air, though a living one, by continual sweating, and by the evaporation of that sweat, was kept cold. -- May not this be a reason why our reapers inPensylvania, working in the open field, in the clear hot sunshine common in our harvest-time (* 1), find themselves well able to go through that labour, without being much incommoded by the heat, while they continue to sweat, and while they supply matter for keeping up that sweat, by drinking frequently of a thin evaporable liquor, water mixed with rum; but if the sweat stops, they drop, and sometimes die suddenly, if a sweating is not again brought on by drinking that liquor, or, as some rather chuse in that case, a kind of hot punch, made with water, mixed with honey, and a considerable proportion of vinegar? -- May there not be in negroes a quicker evaporation of the perspirable matter from their skins and lungs, which, by cooling them more, enables them to bear the sun's heat better than whites do? (if that is a fact, as it is said to be; for the alledg'd necessity of having negroes rather than whites, to work in the West-Indiafields, is founded upon it) though the colour of their skins would otherwise make them more sensible of the sun's heat, since black cloth heats much sooner, and more, in the sun, than white cloth. I am persuaded, from several instances happening within my knowledge, that they do not bear cold weather so well as the whites; they will perish when exposed to a less degree of it, and are more apt to have their limbs frost-bitten; and may not this be from the same cause? Would not the earth grow much hotter under the summer sun, if a constant evaporation from its surface, greater as the sun shines stronger, did not, by tending to cool it, balance, in some degree, the warmer effects of the sun's rays? -- Is it not owing to the constant evaporation from the surface of every leaf, that trees, though shone on by the sun, are always, even the leaves themselves, cool to our sense? at least much cooler than they would otherwise be? -- May it not be owing to this, that fanning ourselves when warm, does really cool us, though the air is itself warm that we drive with the fan upon our faces; for the atmosphere round, and next to our bodies, having imbibed as much of the perspired vapour as it can well contain, receives no more, and the evaporation is therefore check'd and retarded, till we drive away that atmosphere, and bring dryer air in its place, that will receive the vapour, and thereby facilitate and increase the evaporation? Certain it is, that mere blowing of air on a dry body does not cool it, as any one may satisfy himself, by blowing with a bellows on the dry ball of a thermometer; the mercury will not fall; if it moves at all, it rather rises, as being warmed by the friction of the air on its surface? -- To these queries of imagination, I will only add one practical observation; that wherever it is thought proper to give ease, in cases of painful inflammation in the flesh, (as from burnings, or the like) by cooling the part; linen cloths, wet with spirit, and applied to the part inflamed, will produce the coolness required, better than if wet with water, and will continue it longer. For water, though cold when first applied, will soon acquire warmth from the flesh, as it does not evaporate fast enough; but the cloths wet with spirit, will continue cold as long as any spirit is left to keep up the evaporation, the parts warmed escaping as soon as they are warmed, and carrying off the heat with them.

I am, Sir, &c.;

(* 1) Pensylvania is in about lat. 40, and the sun, of course, about 12 degrees higher, and therefore much hotter than in England. Their harvest is about the end of June, or beginning of July, when the sun is nearly at the highest.

- Both letters from the Works of Benjamin Franklin by Jared Sparks, 1838.

Plaque on the home of Dr. John Lining, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Plaque on the home of Dr. John Lining, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Photo courtesy Michael Sean Nix, Feb 13, 2010

Dr. John Lining, a young physician who immigrated to Charleston from Scotland in 1730, was married to Sarah Hill in 1739. It is not known if the couple actually set up housekeeping in the town house of the bride’s family or not, but it is John Lining’s name that will forever be associated with the house. Here’s why: About the time of his marriage, Dr. Lining was frustrated by his inability to offer any medical remedy for the terrible epidemics of smallpox, whooping cough, and yellow fever which frequently swept through the colony with deadly consequences for many sufferers. As a man interested in science, he was convinced that a logical connection existed between South Carolina’s semi-tropical weather and these bouts of dreaded disease. Thus, he began to record scientific observations of the local climate from a make-shift “laboratory” in the house at 106 Broad Street. In particular, he was concerned with measuring the affects of the elements on the human body. He shared his meticulous findings through regular correspondence with a fellow scientist in Philadelphia – the young Benjamin Franklin. Eventually, the impressive weather observations he measured and recorded were published in England. The studies appeared in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (of London) in 1742-43. Dr. Lining’s work at 106 Broad Street was one of the important steps forward in the 18th century’s “Age of Reason” – contributing to the growing body of knowledge that would eventually save countless lives not only in Charleston but around the world. - from Preservation Progress for the Preservation Society of Charleston, 2006


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