History of Electricity
Electricity is a really just a bunch of physical anomalies related to the presence and movement of an electric charge. Lol! Nerdy right? Static, Lightning, electromagnetism and the flow of electric current are just a few of the well-known effects electricity creates. Lightning is one of the most dramatic forms of electricity that can been seen. Some other forms of electricity are radio waves and electromagnetic radiation. When I think of an electric charge it brings back memories of rubbing balloons on our heads as kids. The static created from the friction made our hair stand straight up. That was our first science experiment and didn’t even know it. An electric field was created from all of the static in our hair. An electrical field is basically the electromagnetism created by an electric charge when no current is flowing. When there is an electric charge just sitting there ready to do something, we as electricians call that electric potential (volts for short). Voltage can be compared to the water pressure in a plumbing pipe. The greater the voltage the more can be done with the charge. When we start doing work with the electric potential, we create electrical current to flow. This flow is typically measured in amperes (amps for short). Once there is electrons flowing in the conductor there starts to be a magnetic field created around that conductor also known as EMF. This electromagnetic flux created around the conductor can itself induce additional currents on other conductors or highly conductive objects. This process of magnetic induction is the basic principle on which an electrical transformer works. A strong magnetic field induces current and potential onto a secondary conductor. These basic principles are what our modern day electrical grid is based upon. High voltage can travel long distance with losing much of its potential but is not very end user friendly so the high voltage needs to be stepped down with a transformer to make it safe for use in your home and office.
Electrical phenomenon has been researched and studied since the beginning of time. Understanding and theories didn’t really pick up speed until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Progress was made but was still in its infancy. The nineteenth century brought on a wave of new theories and useful technologies. Electrical engineer were able to incorporate these new technologies and advancements into new strategies for implementation of usable electricity in homes and industrial buildings. The creation of usable electricity to everyday people and businesses transformed the industrial sector and brought electric light into people’s homes. Lighting, electric heating apparatus, transportation, and computation were just some of the wonderful comforts brought on by the harnessing of electrical power.
As far back as 2750 BC the ancient Egyptians wrote texts describing electric fish swimming in the river Nile. Millennia later the ancient Greeks and Romans reported similar accounts of fish that could shock you. Ancient writers described firsthand accounts of the feeling they got when shocked by catfish and electric rays. Pliny the Elder and Scribonius Largus wrote about feeling a numbing effect that could be delivered by those fish. They also had vague understanding of how shocks could travel along conductive objects. It wasn’t until the 15th century when the Arab peoples identified electricity with words and other evidence of its existence. The first study of electricity was conducted by English scientist William Gilbert. Until this point electricity was little more than a curiosity amongst intellectuals. Now what William Gilbert did was he coined the New Latin term electricus (“like amber”) for the effect of rubbing amber to create static electricity that attracted small lightweight objects. The English word for this phenomenon gave rise to the word “electric” and “electricity”. These words were first known to be printed in Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica in the year 1646.
The next influential pioneer in the research and development of electricity in history was Benjamin Franklin. In the 18th century he conducted many studies on this subject. To pay for all his activities he sold all of his possessions and was determined to figure it all out. One of his experiments involved a key and a moist kite string. He flew they kite during a storm and indeed had lightning strike the key and flow through the string proving the theory that lightning was electricity.