Electricity has been around so long now that society is not old enough to remember when it was invented. In fact, many of today’s generation would have no clue that there was a time when electricity did not exist in its present form. Plus, most people do not function well when the power goes out due to storms and accidents, mostly because they take electricity for granted. Although the scientific concept of electricity was established thousands of years ago, the modern form of electricity, as we now know it to power appliances and gadgets, was only rolled out to the masses in the late nineteenth century.
Actually, one of the first men to use the term “electricity” was William Gilbert (Gilberd), a sixteenth century philosopher and physicist. He spent a great amount of time conducting experiments regarding electricity and magnetism. His work was later expanded by Otto von Guericke and then by Charles François de Cisternay du Fay. But von Guericke created an “electric machine” that was used to make electricity for about the next one-hundred years. By 1746, the machine had been improved sufficiently to cause major concern. In fact, Pieter van Musschenbroek, now known for the “Leyden Jar”, created a vessel of electricity so powerful that he vowed never to conduct the same experiment ever again.
People nowadays typically trace modern electricity to Benjamin Franklin, the first American to contribute to the science, and who decided to investigate the experiments and findings of du Fay. But, the truth is that Franklin did not invent electricity, as many believe. First of all, he was not the first person to study it, and secondly, but more importantly, electricity is naturally created. What individuals invented was a way to use or harness the electricity to power things.
Originally, electricity was discussed in terms of amber and how things were attracted to it. This is specifically static electricity. Then in 1792, Alessandro Volta discovered that moisture between two different metals, such as tin and steel, caused electricity, too. He subsequently created the electric battery which was noteworthy because it showed that electricity could run continuously in a current rather than just as a spark. Due to his findings, the word “volt” was so named because of him.
Michael Faraday, an English scientist made the next most credible discovery with electricity. He created the first rudimentary electric generator which proved electricity could be produced in a magnetic field. By 1879, Thomas Edison had built a functional and productive “direct current” generator. Electric lighting did exist by now, but Edison partnered with a man named Joseph Swan, and they founded a business to manufacture filament lamps. Using the DC generator and the lamps, a street was lit up for all to see in New York City. The year was 1882.
Nikola Tesla had been working on his own generator that produced “alternating current” as opposed to the “direct current”. George Westinghouse felt that this was a far superior method of producing electricity, and thus, bought the patent for Tesla’s motor. Tesla saw that if electricity was to be used on a large scale like in today’s society, his method was a necessity. Today, his name is used for the unit of measurement of magnetic field strength or density.
Another notable figure was James Watt who developed the steam engine to work with Edison’s generator. Of course, the word “watt” today refers to the unit of electric power. Further, the word “amp”, the term given to a unit of electrical current, was named after Andre Marie Ampere, a mathematician from France. And the unit of electrical resistance, the “ohm”, was named after George Simon Ohm.
Finally, while this compilation of inventors and scientists is not exhaustive, in that these and many other individuals contributed to today’s use of electricity, it can be clearly seen that no-one invented electricity and that there were many factors leading up to the widespread use of electrical power in the twenty-first century.