Electricity is an essential part of modern life, but it has a history that dates back hundreds of years. Benjamin Franklin, a prominent scientist, is credited for discovering electricity with his famous kite-flying experiments in 1952. In order to show that lightning was electricity, Franklin tied a key to a kite and flew it during a thunderstorm. The kite reportedly drew an electrical charge from the storm, thereby demonstrating the connection between lightning and electricity. Franklin’s experiment inspired other scientists interested in electricity to study electric power and understand more about how it works.
An Italian scientist, Alessandro Volta (1945-1827), developed the first electric battery in 1800 using pure silver and zinc. This battery was essentially a stack of alternating silver and zinc metal discs separated by flannel soaked in weak acid. Alessandro’s electric battery became an important milestone in the history of electricity, as it enabled other scientists to build upon his work to come up with further electrical innovations.
Michael Faraday (1791-1867), an English scientist, invented the electric motor in 1821. Faraday’s core concepts led to the invention of electric motors and kickstarted the industrial revolution. Almost all the electricity we use today is based on some of Michael Faraday’s concepts. In 1866 and 1867, three scientists—Samuel Alfred Valley, Charles Wheatstone, and Werner von Siemens built on Faraday’s concepts and created dynamos, which were the first electrical generators.
Thomas Edison (1847-1931) is credited for inventing the incandescent light bulb, opening the first power plant in New York City in 1882, and installing the first electric streetlights in New Jersey. A number of scientists continued making their contributions over the years and made it possible to incorporate electricity into our daily operations in homes, commercial premises, industries, and more. In 1920, only 35% of American homes had electricity. Thanks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Act of 1936, nearly all American homes had electricity by 1972. Initially, most households in America used electricity primarily for lighting. But as household appliances became more popular in the 1960s, demand for electricity in homes and businesses grew significantly. This prompted the building of more transmission lines and increased electric power generation. As we settle into the 21st century, we expect to see more innovations aimed at reducing the cost of electricity and moving toward renewable energy sources.
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