The History of Electricity

Posted: September 6th, 2013

The History of Electricity





The History of Electricity

The discovery and development of electricity is long, beginning from early Greece, where Thales discovered that a person could produce an electric charge by rubbing amber with cloth ancient people also discovered magnetism. They observed that lodestone attracted iron. The Chinese discovered the magnetic compass, and Peregrius discovered the polarity of the magnet (Baigrie, 2007). Since then, many individuals have contributed to the current knowledge of electricity. William Gilbert contributed to the knowledge of electricity. He was the first to use the term ‘electric’. He dispelled the myth that surrounded magnetic rock during his time. People believed that the magnetic rock contained some magical powers. Gilbert was able to add to the knowledge concerning magnetism, noting that magnets only attracted iron. He created the versorium, which he used to test the presence of electricity in an object. He was able to distinguish between static electricity and magnetism, something that the people had not been able to do during his time (Leavitt & Fisher, 2011).

In the seventeenth century, Otto von Guericke conducted experiments that generated electricity. He created a machine that generated electricity, and showed how one could transmit electricity using a wet string. In the eighteenth century, Stephen Gray performed experiments, and he discovered electrical conductivity. He found out how electricity could transmit to another body. His work inspired Charles du Fay, who later discovered that everything contained electricity. Pieter van Musschenbroek invented the Leyden jar, which he used to store electricity for later use. This paved way for the creation of capacitors, used in electrical appliances. Although many people recognize Benjamin Franklin as the father of electricity, his work only added to a growing list of people who had worked to develop electricity. Benjamin Franklin discovered developed a lightning rod in 1752, providing a basis for the application of electricity.

Alessandro Volta invented the first source of DC in 1800, through his invention of the electric battery. He did this by placing a paper, which was coated with zinc and copper on opposite sides, in salted water, thus producing electric current. He followed Luigi Galvani’s work, who had discovered that placing a dead frog near an electric machine made it twitch. Volta’s discovery was useful because it created a form of electricity that flowed steadily. Volta showed how different chemical reactions produced electricity. Volta showed electricity could travel to different places using a wire. He linked connectors that were positively charged with ones that were negatively charged, and this was the first transmission of electricity. Many people were interested in different aspects of electricity since they did not understand it. While others concentrated on how it worked, others were concerned with how it could be used, and others concentrated on how it could be stored. Charles de Coulomb concentrated on measuring the electricity and magnetism generated in a circuit. Andrew Ampere was concerned with how to measure electric current.

Michael Faraday discovered that one could produce electric current using a magnet and copper wire, developing an idea for an electromagnetic field. This was the basis for developing a generator and electric motors. He showed how one could induce electricity, using changes in the electromagnetic field. His work was fundamental, for it provided a way to created inventions such as transformers and telegraphs. Faraday was also instrumental in developing electric vocabulary, with words such as cathode and anode. He discovered how one could generate a lot of electricity through induction. Faraday’s work was instrumental in enhancing an understanding of electricity, and it enabled people to find different ways of applying electricity. Hippolyte Pixii created the first dynamo, enabling the delivery of power to industries in 1832 (Oracle, n. d.).

Georg Simon Ohm created Ohm’s law, and he proved that there is a relationship between current, resistance, and voltage. He discovered that the current flowing through metal is proportional to the voltage. Increasing or reducing the voltage changes the current by the same proportion, although the resistance does not change. This gave rise to the formula: voltage=current*resistance. This study gave other people the chance to invent other electrical items such as the electric bulb. People used electric lighting in arc lamps. Joseph swan invented the incandescent light bulb in 1878, and this was followed by Thomas Edison’s discovery. Later, Swan and Edison worked together to produce a practical filament lamp. Edison believed in the power of direct current, and he used it in his office. Later, he used the direct current to light street electric lamps. Nikola Tesla discovered a way to produce alternating current in place of the direct current. The AC had more benefits than the DC. It allowed for the transmission of electricity that had high voltages through transformers (Electricity Forum, 2012).

There is a greater understanding of electricity today than there has ever been in history. People have worked out various ways to produce and use it. Many appliances today run on electricity, and it would be hard to imagine a world without it. Electricity has enabled the growth of many sectors in the economy, since it is used to operate many appliances and machineries. Unlike many other inventions, it is hard to point out an individual or period for the invention of electricity. Many people contributed to making electricity what it is today. They were interested in its composition, usage, measurement, and storage. Great minds worked for long periods to enhance the knowledge of history, and no single individual can take the credit. These people ranged from different periods in history, and from different countries.




Baigrie, S. B. (2007). Electricity and magnetism: A historical perspective. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group

Cregan, E. (2009). Electromagnetism. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press

Electricity Forum. (2012). Electricity history. Retrieved from

Leavitt, J. A., & Fisher, A. (2011). Who really discovered electricity. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press

Oracle (n. d.). The history of electricity. retrieved from

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