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The early development of arc plasma physics is closely related to the development of suitable sources of electrical energy. The harnessing of electrostatic charge in Leyden jars (early capacitors) enabled the controlled production of sparks and pulsed arcs. A contemporary introduction to sparks and arcs gives the foundation for critically assessing the early development, when observation and discovery of phenomena were still far from understanding. The modern development of discharge physics can be traced back to the 18th century. Notably, and generally unnoticed by the scientific community until today, Joseph Priestley observed cathode erosion and film deposition of cathode material as early as 1766.