Although electricity has been around in the form of lightening ever since the earth was formed, it wasn’t until the 19th century when Thomas Edison and then Nikola Tesla really started the process of harnessing the electricity that we know and use today. The history of electricity however covers many different centuries and many different continents which can be difficult for anyone to understand, let alone read about without falling asleep. To make things simpler and slightly more interesting I have come up with a brief yet interesting timeline to help you put the electrical pieces together. The screen you’re looking at is powered by history!
Static Electricity – 600 BC – Ancient Greece
The first known recording of electricity was in 600BC in Ancient Greece when a mathematician called Thales discovered static electricity by rubbing amber with animal fur. After rubbing the amber other objects would stick to the surface of it and whilst we now know that this is actually static electricity back in those times it was confused with magnetism. In the years that followed a number of other experiments were conducted with other elements including diamonds, copper and silver. Whilst diamonds had the same result as with amber, elements like copper and silver did not attract anything. This was the first time that insulators and conductors were discovered.
The 17th and 18th Centuries
Things went a bit quiet on the electricity front until the 17th and 18th centuries when a number of experiments including electricity were performed. Otto Von Guericke, a German experimenter was the first man to build an electric generator that proved electricity could be transmitted using a wet piece of string. A few decades after this the English got in on the action and performed a number of experiments. They discovered that light could be achieved by removing air from a rotating glass globe and they also discovered conductivity.
Benjamin Franklin’s Kite Experiment – 1752
Everyone has surely heard about Benjamin Franklin’s kite experience in which he was lucky not to have got seriously injured. During the beginning of a storm Franklin flew a specially designed kite that had a stiff piece of wire attached to the top of it and a key attached to the end of the string. As the string got wet it conducted electricity and caused sparks to jump from the key. Although there was no lightening in the sky when the experiment started the results enabled Franklin to prove that lightening and electricity are the same thing.
Michael Faraday – Early 1800’s
During the early part of the 19th century, English experimenter Michael Faraday conducted experiments on both magnetism and electricity. The results of his experiments led to him discovering a way to generate a lot of electricity all at one time and it is due to his experiments that the invention of well-known items like the generator, motor, telephone and telegraph came into practice.
It is also due to Faraday that we now have names for things like ion, cathode, anode and electrode.
Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla – 1879 and 1880
With all the public interest surrounding electricity, Thomas Edison and his assistant Nikola Tesla began to experiment with electricity themselves. In 1879 Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb in the hopes of bringing electric light into every home and factory in the world. Whilst his experiment was successful it was limited as he purely used DC electricity, believing AC to be dangerous. A year later Nikola Tesla set up his own laboratory in order to experiment with AC electric. He invented an AC induction motor and it was not long before AC transmission was being sold across America.
Technology Chooses Electricity
Nowadays all of the appliances that we run are done so on the principles that were set out by Tesla. From the humble and utilitarian white goods of our home, to the modern mobile revolution that require a good old fashioned charging of electricity, we can’t escape the energy of choice. Unless you want a steam powered computer!
Over the years, products have continued to be invented to make electricity safer in both the home and the work place. Cable tray stands and ducting support stands are just a couple of examples.