Georg Wilhelm Richmann

Georg Wilhelm Richmann (Russian: Георг Вильгельм Рихман) (22 July 1711 – 6 August 1753), (Old Style: 11 July 1711 – 26 July 1753) was a Baltic German physicist. Richmann did pioneering work on electricity, atmospheric electricity, and calorimetry.[1] He died by electrocution in St. Petersburg when struck by apparent ball lightning produced by an experiment attempting to ground the electrical discharge from a storm.

Richmann and his engraver during the electrocution in St. Petersburg

Early life and educationEdit

Georg Wilhelm Richmann was born on 22 July 1711 (Old Style, 11 July 1711) in the city of Pernau (today Pärnu, Estonia) in Swedish Livonia. Richmann's father died of plague before he was born, and his mother remarried. In his early years he studied in Reval (today's Tallinn, Estonia); later he studied in Germany at the universities of Halle and Jena.[2]


Richmann performed pioneering work on electricity and atmospheric electricity, and also worked on calorimetry, collaborating with Mikhail Lomonosov.[citation needed] Richmann also worked as a tutor to the children of Count Andrei Osterman.[citation needed] Richmann translated Alexander Pope's Essay on Man into German from French, which appeared in 1741.[citation needed] In that year, he was also elected a member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.[citation needed]

Accidental deathEdit

Richmann was electrocuted in St. Petersburg on 6 August 1753 (Old Style, 26 July 1753[citation needed]) while "trying to quantify the response of an insulated rod to a nearby storm."[3] He is said to have been attending a meeting of the Academy of Sciences when he heard thunder, whereupon he ran home with his engraver to capture the event for posterity.[citation needed] While the experiment was underway, a discharge reported to have been ball lightning appeared and collided with Richmann's head leaving him with a red spot on his forehead, his shoes blown open, and parts of his clothes singed.[citation needed] The ball lightning arising from the apparatus was the cause of his death.[4] An explosion followed "like that of a small Cannon"[This quote needs a citation] that knocked the engraver out, split the room's door frame, and tore the door off its hinges.[citation needed][4][5] Richmann was apparently the first person in history to die while conducting electrical experiments.[6]

Richmann killed by lightning


  1. ^
  2. ^ Georg Wilhelm Richmann from TLÜAR rahvusbibliograafia isikud
  3. ^ Krider, Philip (2006). "Benjamin Franklin and Lightning Rods". Physics Today. American Institute of Physics. 59 (1): 42. Bibcode:2006PhT....59a..42K. doi:10.1063/1.2180176. S2CID 110623159. Retrieved 28 March 2022. On 6 August 1753, the Swedish scientist Georg Wilhelm Richmann was electrocuted in St. Petersburg while trying to quantify the response of an insulated rod to a nearby storm. The incident, reported worldwide, underscored the dangers inherent in experimenting with insulated rods and in using protective rods with faulty ground connections.
  4. ^ a b Some but not all of the preceding details appear in Ronald W. Clarke's presentation of a description by Benjamin Franklin of the accident. See Clarke, Ronald W. (1983). Benjamin Franklin, A Biography. Random House. p. 87. ISBN 978-1-84212-272-3.
  5. ^ "Frenchman Thomas François D'Alibard used a 50-foot (15 m) long vertical rod to draw down the "electric fluid" of the lightning in Paris on May 10, 1752. One week later, M. Delor repeated the experiment in Paris, followed in July by an Englishman, John Canton. But one unfortunate physicist did not fare so well. Georg Wilhelm Reichmann attempted to reproduce the experiment, according to Franklin's instructions, standing inside a room. A glowing ball of charge traveled down the string, jumped to his forehead and killed him instantly—providing history with the first documented example of ball lightning in the process."[This quote needs a citation]
  6. ^ Swarup, Amarendra (7 June 2006). "Physicists Create Great Balls of Fire". New Scientist. Archived from the original on 19 July 2006. Retrieved 28 March 2022.