ELECTRICITY powers every part of our lives today – from lighting and heating our homes, to keeping public transport systems running.
It’s hard to imagine life before electricity – so where did it all come from?
Who discovered electricity?
The story of electricity starts around 600BC with the Ancient Greeks, who discovered they could create static electricity by rubbing fur on amber.
But it wasn’t until 1600, that William Gilbert, an English physician, used the word ‘electricus’ to describe the force generated by rubbing two materials together.
And a few years after that, Thomas Brown used the word ‘electricity’ in his experiments, based on Gilbert’s work.
Ancient Egyptians used the Electric Nile Cat Fish to trigger shocks in humans to treat headaches and nerve pain.
And around two thousand years ago, Ancient Romans and Persians made batteries that generated 0.5 volts for several days, using sheets of copper in pots and vases.
It is thought these batteries may have been used for electric therapy, like the Egyptian fish, because no electrically powered devices have been found from this time.
في 1752, Benjamin Franklin, one of the American Founding Fathers, proved that lightning was electricity, when he managed to capture the charge from a lightning bolt in a Leyden jar, to store for future use.
And by the 1800s, ideas of positive and negative charge had emerged, as well as ideas of electrical conductors and insulators, and knowledge of generators.
Work on electricity became increasingly focused on making it practically useful.
في 1800, Italian physicist Alessandro Volta used chemical reactions to generate electricity – similarly to the Ancient Persians and Romans hundreds of years previously.
His electric battery, the Voltaic Pile, put out a steady flow of electrical charge by linking positive and negative connectors.
Voltage, the units we use today to measure the amount of pressure in an electrical circuit, is named after Volta.
في 1820, physicists André-Marie Ampère and Hans Christian Ørsted worked together to confirm the relationship between electricity and magnetism.
Ampère is often called the ‘Father of electrodynamics’, and lent his name to the Amp – the unit used to measure constant electrical current.
في 1826, German physicist George Ohm defined the relationship between power, voltage, current and resistance. His name is now used for the basic unit of resistance.
And in 1831, British scientist Michael Faraday made electricity viable for technology when he created the first dynamo, a magnet inside a copper-wire coil.
After Faraday, Thomas Edison in the USA, and Joseph Swan in the UK, both made incandescent lightbulbs in the 1880s – the first lights which stayed on for hours.
And in 1905, Albert Einstein discovered that electricity can be produced from light energy.
What country had electricity first?
In the early 1880s, inventors competed to have their own version of electricity acknowledged, and to be the first to deliver power to homes and cities.
في المملكة المتحدة, market town Godalming, ساري, got a public electricity supply, delivered by a water wheel, في 1881.
Electric street lamps were first switched on in New York in 1882, and ran on Edison’s direct current electricity.
في هذا الوقت, Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla was developing the alternating current (AC) system, that was eventually used mainstream and worldwide.
George Westinghouse developed Tesla’s AC motor, and helped convince American society to adopt it.
في 1883, Brighton seafront in the UK got the mile-long electric pleasure railway that still runs every summer. It was built by Magnus Volks.
And the wealthy residents of New York City, such as J P Morgan, had electric lighting brought to their homes by Edison in the 1880s, with the bulbs powered by small generators.
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Nikola Tesla’s hydroelectric power generators at Niagara Falls were in operation by 1896.
A few years later these supplied electricity to New York’s elevated railway, and the subway, and the lights on Broadway.
في المملكة المتحدة, the first National Grid was built in the 1930s-40s, and the first nuclear power station was built in 1956 at Calder Hall, in Cumbria.
The world’s first commercial wave power station was installed in 2000 on the Island of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland.