• Intralux Electric

The History of Electricity | A Brief Overview

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

The importance of electricity in our lives can not be understated. Electricity is as essential to modern life as water is essential to our bodies. Without electricity, much of our modern infrastructure would crumble. Virtually every major technological development made over the past one hundred years has utilized electricity in some capacity; computers, smartphones, and yes even cars and airplanes all rely on electricity to one extent or another.

Who exactly is to be credited with such a miraculous invention? Commonly, this person is thought to be Benjamin Franklin. While Franklin did have a major discovery as it pertains to electricity, no human invented electricity.

Humans did not invent electricity, rather we discovered it. This is because humans cannot invent something which already exists in nature. As proof by lightning, electricity does indeed exist in nature.

While Ben Franklin is popularly considered to have discovered electricity it was actually discovered thousands of years beforehand.

The ancient Greeks discovered static electricity around 600 years B.C.E. They discovered this form of electricity by rubbing fur on amber.

So what exactly did Benjamin Franklin do? In 1752, Franklin famously took a key, kite, and a storm and proved that the electric sparks that were created were synonymous with lightning.

The renowned Italian physicist Alessandro Volta discovered that electricity could be produced by sequences of chemical reactions. In 1800, he produced an electric battery which is known as the voltaic pile. Volta is credited with producing the first electrical charge by connecting a negatively and positively charged connector.

In 1831, Michael Faraday produced the first viable use for electricity in technology. He did this through the electric dynamo. The dynamo was able to generate electric current in a steady and practical manner, which had been a problem before its invention.

In 1827, Georg Ohm discovered that electrical current in wire acts like water in a pipe.

Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan both invented the incandescent filament light bulb in America and England respectively sometime around 1878.

The two men later teamed up and formed a company. In 1882, Edison used the direct current system (DC) to illuminate the first street lamps,

lighting up Manhattan in 1882.

Nikola Tesla then came along and gave birth to commercial electricity sometime around the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Tesla also made many other important developments such as electromagnetism, alternating current (AC), and AC motors.

George Westinghouse then purchased the patented AC motor of Tesla.

Together Westinghouse and Tesla led a campaign to make American believe that the future of electricity was AC not DC current.

This brief history brings us to the modern day. Though there are quite a few years between Westinghouse and 2019, these were the major inventions that made electricity both viable and commercially available.

The map below shows the world at night. It is quite amazing to see how far commercial electricity has come in such a relatively short amount of time!