Let us now examine the distinction between positive and negative electricities somewhat more closely, aiding ourselves by two cases which are somewhat analogous.
Two air-tight cylinders, A and B, contain air at ordinary pressure. The cylinders are connected by a tube containing an air-pump in such a way that, when the pump is worked, air is taken from A and forced into B. To use the language of the electricians, we at once generate two kinds of pressure. The vessels have acquired new properties. If we open a cock in the side of either vessel, we hear a hissing sound, if a light body is placed before the opening in A it would be attracted, and before the opening in B it would be repelled. Now this is only roughly analogous to the case of the electrified bodies, but the analogy will nevertheless aid us in our study. If the two vessels are first connected with the air, and then closed up and the pump is set to work, we increase the pressure in B and diminish the pressure in A. To do this requires the expenditure of a quantity of work. If the cylinders are connected by an open tube - a conductor - the difference in pressure disappears by reason of a flow of gas from one vessel to the other.
If we had a pump by means of which we could pump heat from one body into another, starting with two bodies at the same temperature, the temperature of one body would increase and that of the other would diminish. If we knew less than we do of heat, we might well discuss whether the plus sign should be applied to the heat or to the cold, because these names were coined by people who knew very little about the subject except that these bodies produce different sensations when they come in contact with the human body.
Furthermore, we find that whether the hand is applied to a very hot body or to a very cold body, the physiological effect is the same. In each case the tissue is destroyed and a burn is produced. Shall we now say that this burn is produced by an unusual flow of heat from the hot body to the hand, or from the hand to the cold body, or shall we say that it is due to an unusual flow of cold from the cold body to the hand, or from the hand to the hot body?
Logically these expressions are identical; still we have come to prefer one of them. It is because we have learned that in those bodies which our fathers called hot, the particles are vibrating with greater energy than in cold bodies, that we prefer to say that heat is added and not cold subtracted, when a cold body becomes less cold.
Now to come back to our electrified bodies. Let us suppose that this gutta percha, and this cat's-skin are not electrified. That means that their electrical condition is the same as that of surrounding bodies. Let us also suppose that their thermal condition is the same as surrounding bodies, ourselves included - that is, they are neither hot nor cold. We express these conditions in other words by saying that the bodies have the same electrical potential and the same temperature.
Temperature in heat is analogous to potential in electricity. As soon as adjacent bodies are at different temperatures, we have the phenomena which reveal to us the existence of heat. As soon as adjacent bodies have different electrical potentials, we have the phenomena which reveal the existence of electricity. As soon as adjacent regions in the air are at different pressures, we have phenomena which reveal the existence of air.
Bodies all tend to preserve the same temperature and also the same electrical potential. Any disturbances in electrical equilibrium are much more quickly obliterated than in case of thermal equilibrium, and we therefore see less of electrical phenomena than of thermal. In thunder storms we see such disturbances, and with delicate instruments we find them going on continuously. Changes in temperature occurring on a large scale in our atmosphere, occurring in these gas jets, in our fires, in the axles of machinery, and in thousands of other places, are so familiar that we have ceased to wonder at them.
If we rub these two bodies together, the potential of the two is no longer the same. We do not know which one has become greater, and in this respect our knowledge of electricity is less complete than of heat. We assume that the gutta percha has become negative. If we now leave these bodies in contact, the potential of the cat's skin will diminish and that of the gutta percha will increase until they have again reached a common potential - that of the earth. As in the case of heat and cold, we may say either that this has come about by a flow of positive electricity from the cat's skin to the gutta percha, or by a flow of negative electricity in the opposite direction, for these statements are identical.
In case of our gas cylinders, the gas tends to leak out of the vessel where the pressure is great into the vessel where it is small. The heat tends to leak out of a body of high temperature into the colder one, or the cold tends to go in the opposite direction. Similarly, the plus electricity tends to flow from the body having a high potential, to the body having a low potential, or the minus electricity tends to go in the opposite direction.
 Introductory to the course of Lectures on Physics at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri - Kansas City Review.