Brief History of Electricity

Updated: Mar 25

For today's blog post I'd thought I would take it all the way back to the beginning and do a quick history of electricity. Few other inventions throughout history have made as much of an impact on modern civilization. Electricity is a commodity in all developed countries and absolutely necessary for developing economies. Many may not know the dramatic competition that unfolded and led to what we now know as electricity.

The study and history of electricity is long and complicated but culminated in the late 19th century with two characters. Thomas Edison and Nikolai Tesla. These two characters were fierce competitors in the electrical world. They both pioneered and advocated two different types of electricity. Tesla preferred alternating current or AC systems while Edison worked with direct current or DC systems. They both pushed for an electrical system that was either one or the other. However in the end a combination of these two systems, and the knowledge gained from these two master inventors, led to our modern electrical system.

Thomas Edison was born in 1847 in Ohio. He spent most of his youth in Michigan and was a successful entrepreneur from an early age. He started his business career with a newspaper route that gained exclusive rights too and then began publishing his own paper. From there the sky was the limit. He established an industrial research lab in 1876 that allowed him the time, manpower and materials to make his ideas come to life.

Nikolai Tesla was born in the Austrian Empire in 1856. In 1882 Tesla began working for The Continental Edison Company, the brain child of Thomas Edison and the foremost electrical power utility at the time. Managers quickly took note of his genius and he moved up the chain at light speed. Two years after starting work at Continental Edison Company he moved to the United States with his manager. It was there that Tesla was able to begin experimenting with different forms of electric power.

In the late 1800s a person looking for electric power could typically choose from a number of utility providers. Some supplied AC power while others supplied DC electricity. AC power could be transported long distances but was more unstable while DC power was safer it could not be transported nearly as far as its competitor. After a number of years and accidents that led to a number of deaths, a new system of electrical distribution was devised.

Modern power grids use a combination of AC and DC power. AC power is generated at electrical power plants. This electrical power is then transported via cables and wires that you see over your head as you drive through your streets. In other locations, this power is transported via underground cables to where you need them most, the electrical sockets in your wall. However, not not all systems and devices use AC power. In fact, most electronic devices use DC power including phones, computers and your electric vehicle. The plastic boxes that you see on your charging cables are filled with a system of devices that convert the AC power coming from your electrical socket into usable DC power that makes everything hum and usable for whatever application you need.

-Wilson Packard



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