Where would we be without electricity?
You wouldn’t be reading this blog post, for starters! In fact, most of our day-to-day life and routine would grind to a halt without power.
But despite how important electricity is to our modern society, not that many people are very familiar with its fascinating history.
From ancient times to the modern day
Even from ancient times, humans have had an awareness of electricity.
Egyptian scientists and doctors were familiar with electric rays and catfish as far back 2750 BC (when the first electric shock was recorded!) They referred to these fish as Thunderers of the Nile.
The Greeks were aware of static electricity and how to generate it.
It wouldn’t be until the 1600s when the first serious scientific studies into the nature of electricity were conducted by scientists including William Gilbert (who coined the word “electricity”) and Luigi Galvani, who conducted experiments into the nature of electricity and how to store it (creating some of the world’s earliest modern batteries in the process).
And of course, we can’t forget Benjamin Franklin. While he didn’t discover electricity like it’s commonly thought, he was an influential researcher in electricity. His curious nature (including his invention of the lighting rod) led him to be one of the most influential figures in history.
From the 1800s on, electricity started making serious progress, rapidly changing from a scientific curiosity to an essential part of western societies and economies during the industrial revolution.
Of course, there are dozens of names who all contributed in some way to the advancement of electricity.
There’s no way we can pay tribute to all of them without tying you down for hours. But what we can do is talk about some of the most prolific and important names, and how their work is letting you read this blog right now!
We’re willing to bet that most have heard of Tesla, the electric car that’s been making waves in the automotive world.
What many people are less aware of is Nikola Tesla, electrical genius, brilliant engineer, possible mad scientist… and one of the most important names in electrical engineering!
Born in 1856 in what is now Croatia, Tesla proved to have a knack for electrical engineering that got him noticed by the European branch of Edison Machine Works, eventually taking him to America to work underneath Thomas Edison himself before opening his own company.
Tesla had a reputation as the original mad scientist. And looking at his list of inventions, it’s not hard to see how he earned the title: an earthquake machine, death rays, unlimited free electricity… it reads like a science fiction novella!
But while Tesla was certainly eccentric, he was also the creator of a whole range of essential modern electrical technology:
Alternating current (AC)
AC enables the efficient transmission of much greater volumes of electricity over long distances compared to DC. Unlike DC, AC electricity can vary in voltage, which is why it’s used for long-range electrical transmission. You can also thank Tesla for indirectly giving legendary rock band AC/DC their name
While Marconi is usually credited with this, it was Tesla that did most of the legwork
That radio story in particular essentially sums up Nikola Tesla’s career. While he was brilliant, he never received the credit he was owed until recently, and many of his inventions were attributed to other inventors.
The remote control
As part of his research into radio, Tesla created the world’s first remote control.
Most people know Thomas Edison as the inventor of the light bulb.
But did you know that asides from the light bulb, Edison is also one of the world’s the most prolific inventors. Over his lifetime, he submitted 1,093 patents, including:
The world’s first voice-recording device, it paved the way for musical recordings.
The electric chair
In order to discredit Nikola Tesla, Edison arranged a demonstration of the dangers of AC currents, inadvertently inventing the electric chair.
The earliest telephones weren’t known for their audio quality. Edison improved the transmitters in early designs, improving signal and sound quality.
One of the earliest video cameras, using a series of sequential photographs printed on a rotating wheel.
The alkaline battery
Before alkaline, batteries were inefficient and didn’t last as long. While the alkaline battery of today looks nothing like the ones Edison put together, they run on similar principles.
And a thousand more… literally!
More than a prolific inventor however, Edison was a ruthless businessman. In fact, it’s arguable that Edison’s biggest impact was through the companies he started.
Here’s a fun fact: the US movie industry used to be based almost entirely out of New York. And with his companies producing almost all film cameras and lights, he essentially controlled the film industry – if you wanted to make a movie, you had to pay Thomas Edison.
In many ways, Edison was the opposite of Nikola Tesla – while Tesla’s inventions were almost always credited to someone else, many of Edison’s patents actually had very little direct input from Edison himself!
Regardless, the sheer number of patents he (or his engineers) put out and the role his companies had in speeding up the electrification of the world can’t be ignored.
Does that surname sound familiar?
You’ve probably heard the name on the news recently. Westinghouse is one of the biggest power companies in America. And while it’s fallen on hard times recently, the company – and its founder, George Westinghouse – are important names in the history of electricity.
While George Westinghouse was the inventor of the air brake and automated railway signalling systems, his legacy is spreading electricity.
In particular, his company teamed up with Nikola Tesla to spread AC electrical stations around America.
Long story short: our modern electrical network with its transmission towers and transformers that transport electricity over long distances wouldn’t be possible without George Westinghouse.
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Electricity and electrical systems have come a long way since then.
If your house’s electrical system acts like it hasn’t seen an upgrade since the times of these pioneers, perhaps you should talk to an electrician about getting with the times!
Providing a range of residential and commercial services Briggs Electrical’s electricians in Melbourne will look after all your commercial and domestic electrical needs.
Whether it’s installing new wiring, lights, CCTV systems, home theatres or any kind of electrical emergency, our friendly team will get it done on time and on-budget!
Our 24-hour electricians are always prepared for call-outs at any time of the day or night so you don’t have to live with unexpected electrical disasters.