Birk Petersen made this miniature Van de Graff generator. Static electricity generated by this machine will literally cause your hair to stand on end. It’s an electrostatic generator that uses a moving belt to accumulate electric charge on a hollow metal globe on the top of an insulated column. This creates very high electric potential. The generator produces very high voltage direct current (DC) electricity at low current levels. It was invented by American physicist Robert J. Van de Graaff in 1929. The potential difference achieved in modern Van de Graaff generators can reach 5 megavolts. A tabletop version like this can produce on the order of 100,000 volts, and can store enough energy to produce a visible spark.

Mr. Petersen created a vast array of projects over his lifetime, ranging from miniature engines to hand-cranked animations and more. He built functional miniatures like a 1/3 scale Gatling gun or a 1/4 scale Case steam tractor, but he also built mechanical creations for the fun and enjoyment of his family. When Birk passed away in 2015, his family graciously donated over 150 items from his collection for display at the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum, where they are currently on display. We thank the Petersen family for sharing his extensive collection, which demonstrates the broad interests and many talents of Birk Petersen.

Exhibit added: May 7, 2016 - Last modified: January 19, 2024

Presented by The Joe Martin Foundation for Exceptional Craftsmanship