Who Invented Electricity?
No one person invented electricity, but its modern day use is the result of the work of inventors, scientists, and researchers who toiled over the subject for millennia. In order to fully understand electricity in our modern world, one has to first understand the pioneers who date back to as early as the ancient Greeks, and contemplate their work to harness the natural power of electricity and turn it into something useful to the average person.
The Role of Thales of Miletus
The history of electricity begins not with electricity as we know it today, but with a more rudimentary form of the power, static electricity. According to historical documents, the first known discovery of static electricity actually dates back to 6th century BC, where a man named Thales of Miletus realized rubbing a fur with some other object would cause the two objects to attract each other. Amazed by this phenomenon, he began to rub all kinds of objects together, but had the greatest success with amber, even to the point where he could get sparks to form.
The Role of Gilbert, Cardno, and Von Guericke
Unfortunately, the study of electricity never really took off until the 1550s. It was then that the Italian physicist, Girolamo Cardano, started doing work that involved electrical and magnetic forces. His follower, William Gilbert, began to expand on Cardano’s theories in the 1600s, although the actual word “electricity” was not coined until 1646.
Otto von Guericke created the first modern applications of electricity in 1660. His invention of the first electrostatic generator paved the way for electricity to finally be recognized as an actual field of study. This invention was followed by a variety of tests, which culminated in the realization that electricity can travel freely across a vacuum, that there are materials that act as conductors and others that act as insulators, and that two types of electricity exist (positive and negative).
The Turning Point for Electrical Theory
Work done in the 1700s on electrical theory turned out to be a major turning point for the field and is wholly responsible for modern electrical applications. During this time, the first capacitor was invented and it was finally determined that static electricity could be transformed into an electric current. Also, during this time, Benjamin Franklin established the link between lightning and electricity during his famous kite in a thunderstorm experiment (which may or may not be totally correct).
The work of Franklin and his contemporaries gave rise to some of the biggest names in the electrical field. These men included Michael Faraday, Andre Ampere, Georg Simon Ohm, Luigi Galvani, and (perhaps the most well known) Alessandro Volta, all of which have their names permanently attached to some measure of electricity. Together, their work allowed for the creation of anodes, cathodes, and batteries.
The Electrical Theory Revolution
The early nineteenth century produced even more amazing discoveries in the field of electricity, including work that individuals like Werner von Siemens and John Pender made famous. These men created some of the first companies that were created specifically to examine electricity and its potential to make life easier for humanity.
Despite the major breakthroughs during the early nineteenth century, they were nothing compared to what was to come. Great minds like Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Samuel Morse, Antonio Meucci, George Westinghouse, and Alexander Graham Bell worked to create some of the most incredible inventions to ever come from the study of electricity. These inventions included the induction motor, the light bulb and a method of distributing electrical energy, the long range telegraph, the telephone, the first electrically powered locomotive, and the founding of the widely successful telephone industry respectively.
All of the research and study in the field of electricity finally culminated in the early twentieth century in what is called the War of the Currents between Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla. The three men battled for public support for either direct current (DC) (power that Edison proposed) or alternating current (AC) (Westinghouse proposed this and Tesla supported it). Eventually, it was determined that both types of currents should be used, but in different sectors. Although AC currently dominates, they are both still in use today.