History of Electricity - Accent Energy, New York
An enormous part of our lives is affected by electricity. From the lights we turn on when we wake up in the morning, the power going to our coffeemaker, the traffic lights on your way to work, and the computers and equipment we use once we get there. Without electricity, life as we know it would be dramatically different (just think about what a damper a power outage puts on your day!). Still, most people never stop to think about how this essential utility became such a huge part of our lives.
If you were asked to name the person who discovered electricity, chances are you would say Benjamin Franklin. His kite flying experiments in 1752 were incredibly important and influential, but there is evidence that people were aware of electricity as far back as 600 BC. Thales of Miletos is thought to be the first to study the creation of electrical energy. While experimenting with amber rods, Thales found that after rubbing them, they attracted lightweight objects.
It wasn't until 1600 that Thales' study was significantly expanded upon. While many were curious about electricity, no one made any substantial advancement in the field until an Englishman named William Gilbert studied electricity along with magnetism and argued that they were not the same thing. He actually coined the term "electricity" which comes from the Greek word for amber-a substance that, like Thales, he used in his studies.
The next major advance in electricity was in 1752 when Benjamin Franklin and his kite proved that lightning was a form of electricity. From then on discoveries in electricity took off rapidly, down the path toward the electricity that we know today. Less than 50 years after Franklin and his kite, Alessandro Volta created the first electric cell and connected a few together to create a battery-the first safe, dependable source of electricity. Next, Michael Faraday discovered that you could create an electric current by passing a magnet through a copper wire, which led to the creation of generators and power plants.
In 1879 Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, which is what really got the public utilities ball rolling. Intent on finding a way to make electricity less costly and more practical, Edison built the Pearl Street Power Station in Manhattan in 1882. The first electric power plant capable of bringing electricity into people's homes, Edison's station served 85 customers within a square mile. His design quickly took off and was duplicated around the country. In 1895, another huge milestone came when George Westinghouse opened the first major power plant that used the newly developed AC power systems, which could transport electricity more than 200 miles-a huge improvement from Edison's one mile radius!
By 1930, roughly ninety percent of people living in cities and big towns had electricity in their homes. It was easy for power companies to get electricity to groups living in close proximity to each other. It wasn't easy dealing with rural areas. Only about ten percent of Americans living on farms or in other rural areas had electricity. The privately owned power companies argued that it would cost them too much money to bring electric lines to farms that are miles and miles apart. They also felt that the farmers would be too poor to pay for the services. President Roosevelt did not agree with this logic and in 1935 the Rural Electric Administration was established to bring electricity to rural areas. Within four years, electricity in rural areas rose 25 percent.
In the 21st century, our thoughts have turned to finding "cleaner" ways to create electricity. Fossil fuels account for roughly seventy percent of electricity production, a number that many environmental groups are looking to change. Especially since the inauguration of President Obama, methods like wind, solar and hydropower are under a greater focus.
Today, Americans think of electricity as a given. It has transformed the way in which we live and has become something that we expect and can't imagine living without. Nothing about our lives would be the same if we didn't have electricity, yet we rarely stop to think about how we got here in the first place.