Electricity: How We Got Here
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Using electricity as power is ubiquitous today but of course it wasn’t always the case. The history of human attempts to harness electricity may go back as far as 600 B.C. when Thales of Miletus, a Greek philosopher, first studied the effect of rubbing amber on fur and then being able to attract small objects. His simple experiments didn’t lead anywhere for hundreds of years—except to give the phenomenon he witnessed the word: elektron, or amber in Greek.
Much later, in the 17th century, William Gilbert, an English physician, repeated Thales of Miletus’ research, but despite experimental success, guessed wrong at what caused objects to be attracted to each other. Instead of correctly imagining electromagnetism at work, Gilbert thought that the rubbing action removed an essential fluid or “humour” from one object, leaving an “effluvium” or atmosphere around it.
Benjamin Franklin famously proved that lightening is a form of electricity in 1752 with his kite and key experiment. But it wasn’t until 1879 that Thomas Edison was finally successful in harness electricity to power a light bulb. Nikola Tesla, who worked with Edison after emigrating from Serbia in 1884, was instrumental in the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. (He also laid the groundwork for wireless power.)
Even after electricity had a pretty good foothold in modern life, it was still considered a mysterious force. It wasn’t until 1897 that electrons were discovered. Not long after, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, which used electric current to transmit speech across great distances.
Still, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that electrical appliances became an integral part of every modern household.
Now we almost take electricity for granted, but just imagine how different our lives would be without it.
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