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History of Electricity
The History of Electricity
If you asked most people who discovered electricity they would answer Benjamin
Franklin. On the surface this is partially correct and I certainly wouldn't want to take
anything away from Mr. Franklin, for he was truly brilliant. That said, the fact is, evidence
has been uncovered that shows there were batteries over 2000 years ago. A clay pot sits
in the Baghdad museum that was discovered in 1936. This pot contained copper plate and
tin alloy and had an iron rod sealed with asphalt. The iron showed signs of acidic
corrosion. By filling this pot with an acidic solution such as vinegar, an electric current could
be produced. What it was used for is not known although some speculation would include
some form of medicinal value though no one knows for sure. In any event it was forgotten
by humankind for well over 1000 years.
Until the 1600s, there was no real experimentation with electricity. Up to this point static
electricity was played with and it could be produced but nobody really knew what it was or
understood it. By rubbing amber, even as early as ancient Greece, it could be made to
attract fibers or dust. In the late 1600s a man named Otto von Guericke of Germany is
credited with doing some of the first experiments with what we now know is static
electricity. Guericke created a machine that could produce static electricity which would
enable scientists to experiment with this new found electricity. He also noticed the attribute
In 1729 Stephen Gray discovered the conductive properties of electricity. With
experiments using static electricity, he found that certain materials such as silk did not
conduct electricity. His contribution was important because for the first time electricity was
seen as a fluid element that could travel or be hampered from travelling. Some of his work
is related to insulation and insulators that would protect future scientists from being injured.
This is where we fit Benjamin Franklin into the picture. In 1752 Franklin presented the
idea that electricity had positive and negative elements and that the flow was from positive
to negative. He also, through his most famous experiment with a kite, proved that lightning
was a form of electricity.
In 1800 Alessandro Volta developed the first electric battery. Of course we know it wasn't
really the first but this is the way history views it. He invented the Voltaic pile by placing
dissimilar metals copper and zinc or silver and zinc together separated by brine soaked
cloth. This cell created electric current. The theory was called contact tension.
In 1831 Michael Faraday discovered magnetic induction. The work Faraday did in his
experiments is probably among the most important and led to many advances in the
understanding and use of electricity. His work led to the creation of the generator enabling
us to make electricity. If there is a father of electric I think Michael Faraday is it.
In 1879 Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb. This again is one of those cases
where he wasn't the first to discover that electricity could create light, but using what others
found, he invented the best way to accomplish it. Edison found that by using a carbon
filament in a glass globe devoid of oxygen, he could make a continuous light. An amazing
invention that would change the world.
Some more important dates in the history of electricity include:
1881 - Louis Latimer gets a patent for the first light bulb with a carbon filament
1885 - George Westinghouse develops and finds uses for Alternating Current or AC
1888 - Heinrich Hertz discovers electric waves and how to measure them
1889 - Nikola Tesla develops the first real AC motor and invents the Tesla Coil
Some other electric firsts:
1889 - First electric streetcar in Seattle
1902 - First electric flashlight
1903 - First electric iron
1907 - First practical domestic vacuum cleaner
1909 - First electric toaster
1913 - First electric refrigerator
1919 - First electric pop-up toaster
The list goes on and on but one thing becomes very clear. Electricity was not one mans
discovery but a combination of works by many people over hundreds if not thousands of
years. For more about the history of electricity see some of the sites below.