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The story - a typical Analog problem-solving story - involves a humanoid alien race that has developed an advanced technology without benefit of electricity. The opening scene: an engineer working inside a rocket accidently throws a lever that begins the launch sequence, which, without electricity, is a very complex mechanical process. He frantically scrambles toward the hatch, hearing the thumps and thuds of the mechanism that will eventually fire the engines. He manages to escape, and, as the rocket lifts off, decides there must be some easier way to power machinery. I can't remember what happens next, but at the end of the story he gets a vague idea that the reader knows will eventually lead to the discovery of electrical power. It was all very tongue-in-cheek, which makes me think of Anvil, who specialized in humorous stories.

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It was Christopher Anvil! The story is Not in the Literature published in Analog March 1963.

It's the Inside Clocker who accidentally bumps the launch lever:

"What happened?" said Alarik.

"The inside clocker - He's new. I shouldn't have let him down alone. We can't use any kind of lamps in there. He had to work with just a glow plate."

"What happened?"

The earth began to shake.

"Go on," shouted Alarik, "what happened?"

"He bumped the master pull wire, where it comes in out of the sheath from Control. The safety was pushed down, and by mistake, the tip must have been over the wire; the pin popped up out of the hole, the safety let go, the arming spring knocked the lever around, the safety came down and hit the taut wire, and that sprang the lever. We could hear it - Wham! Wham! Wham! Then she started."

The hint we get that electricity is about to be discovered is when a janitor at the university accidentally discovers a zinc-copper cell:

"But I can solve your igniter problem ... well, I got to playing around with strips of zinc and copper one day, and put them into some dilute sulfuric acid, and for some reason, I laid another strip of copper across the tops of the strips standing in the acid."

Alarik smiled. "And you got bubbles on the copper strip. It's a standard experiment."

"Yes, but I wondered about it. Why did I get bub­bles?"

"It's a well known chemical fact. Immerse copper and zinc in acid, let there be contact, and bubbles form on the copper. The bubbles are hydrogen gas." Alarik smiled tolerantly. "Go ahead. What next?"

"I wondered, why must there be contact?"

Alarik blinked. "What's that?"

"Bubbles formed when I joined zinc and copper strip. Why did these strips have to be joined?"

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    Thanks much! A funny thing about memory - I could have sworn this story appeared in the late '60s when Analog was a digest-sized magazine. I began to read SF in 1963, which makes this one of the earliest stories I can remember. Thanks again! Feb 1, 2023 at 12:22
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    @LeeEckhardt Maybe you read it in the anthology Analog 3. That came out a few years later. Feb 1, 2023 at 12:29
  • Maybe so. My father loved Analog - it was the only SF magazine he subscribed to - and I can remember him bringing the anthologies home from the library. Feb 1, 2023 at 13:02

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