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History of Electricity

Benjamin Franklin (1750 - Lightning is electrical)

Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician  (was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States), postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. As an inventor, he is known for the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other inventions.

In 1750 he published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. On May 10, 1752, Thomas-François Dalibard of France conducted Franklin's experiment using a 40-foot-tall (12 m) iron rod instead of a kite, and he extracted electrical sparks from a cloud. On June 15 Franklin may possibly have conducted his well known kite experiment in Philadelphia, successfully extracting sparks from a cloud.

Franklin's electrical experiments led to his invention of the lightning rod.


Luigi Aloisio Galvani (1781 - "Animal Electricity")

Galvani was an Italian physician, physicist and philosopher who lived in Bologna.

With his experiment he discovered that the body of animals is powered by electrical impulses. Galvani named this newly discovered force “animal electricity,” and thus laid foundations for the modern fields of electrophysiology and neuroscience.

Galvani’s contemporaries - including Benjamin Franklin, whose work helped prove the existence of atmospheric electricity - had made great strides in understanding the nature of electricity and how to produce it. Inspired by Galvani’s discoveries, fellow Italian scientist Alessandro Volta would go on to invent, in 1800, the first electrical battery - the voltaic pile - which consisted of brine-soaked pieces of cardboard or cloth sandwiched between disks of different metals.


Thomas Alva Edison (1882 - First Power Station)

Edison was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. Dubbed "The Wizard of Menlo Park", he was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large-scale teamwork to the process of invention, and because of that, he is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.

In 1878, Edison formed the Edison Electric Light Company (today as General Electric) in New York City with several financiers, including J. P. Morgan and the members of the Vanderbilt family. Edison made the first public demonstration of his incandescent light bulb on December 31, 1879, in Menlo Park. It was during this time that he said: "We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles."

After devising a commercially viable electric light bulb on October 21, 1879, Edison patented a system for electricity distribution in 1880, which was essential to capitalize on the invention of the electric lamp.
The company established the first investor-owned electric utility in 1882 on Pearl Street Station, New York City. It was on September 4, 1882, that Edison switched on his Pearl Street generating station's electrical power distribution system, which provided 110 volts direct current (DC) to 59 customers in lower Manhattan. Earlier in the year, in January 1882, he had switched on the first steam-generating power station at Holborn Viaduct in London. The DC supply system provided electricity supplies to street lamps and several private dwellings within a short distance of the station.

Edison was a prolific inventor, holding 1,093 US patents in his name. More significant than the number of Edison's patents was the widespread impact of his inventions: electric light and power utilities, sound recording, and motion pictures all established major new industries world-wide. Edison's inventions contributed to mass communication and, in particular, telecommunications. These included a stock ticker, a mechanical vote recorder, a battery for an electric car, electrical power, recorded music and motion pictures.


Nicola Tesla (1891 - Tesla Coil)

Tesla was a Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system.

Tesla moved to New York in 1884 and introduced himself to Thomas Edison. Although Tesla and Edison shared a mutual respect for one another, at least at first, Tesla challenged Edison’s claim that current could only flow in one direction (DC, direct current). Tesla claimed that energy was cyclic and could change direction (AC, alternating current), which would increase voltage levels across greater distances than Edison had pioneered. In 1888, Tesla went to work for Westinghouse in order to develop the alternating current system. Westinghouse and Tesla in their design for the first hydroelectric power plant in Niagara Falls.

Around 1891 Tesla invented the Tesla coil, which is an electrical resonant transformer circuit. It is used to produce high-voltage, low-current, high frequency alternating-current electricity. Tesla experimented with a number of different configurations consisting of two, or sometimes three, coupled resonant electric circuits. In 1899 Tesla moved to Colorado Springs, where he would have room for his high-voltage, high-frequency experiments: Tesla was sitting in his laboratory with his "Magnifying transmitter" generating millions of volts.

Tesla invented the first alternating current (AC) motor and developed AC generation and transmission technology, invented electric oscillators, meters, improved lights. He also experimented with X-rays and gave short-range demonstrations of radio communication.