The world is full with many histories of its own. The ones which are not validated are regarded as myths, like for example, Marconi was the inventor of radio – is that a myth or history? Up until several decades ago, people believed it to be true; however, only later it was declared that it was not Marconi but Tesla who invented the radio. There are similar stories all over the world, which is why we need to dig deeper, and chronologically so, about the various events in history that have led to this day.
When it comes to electricity, many are of the belief that Edison was the first who invented the light bulb, Morse the telegraph and so on. The world sees only the final work but not the years of research that have contributed to the culmination of this discovery. Today we are going to tell you about one of the greatest discoveries and facts of history related to the field of physics – Electricity. It is one of the greatest modern gifts to mankind which has “lighted” our paths to more discoveries in the field of science.
First contribution – William Gilbert
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Contrary to what most people believe, the history of electricity actually starts off with William Gilbert and not Benjamin Franklin, who came about a century later. William Gilbert was the scientist who was there during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. During those days, the world was not as accepting of physics as it is now. Thankfully, we had scientific minds even then, like Gilbert himself.
Before Gilbert, all the world knew about electric current was that a magnetic lodestone had some “charm” or “magical properties” to attract the iron nails, or that rubbing jet and amber would make bits of things stick together. In 1600, William Gilbert was the first to publish his treatise De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, meaning “on the magnet”.
This book, printed in scholarly Latin in the 17th century, contains detailed research and articles about Gilbert’s study of electricity and magnetism. In fact, it was he who first coined the term “electrica”. Of course, his interest in electricity was evident in his works.
The Golden Era of discoveries in Electricity – 1700s
After the initial enthusiasm was sparked, there were a lot of other men who ventured into the uncharted lands of electric current. Otto Von Guericke was one of them. This man from Germany was the first to prove that there could be a possible existence of vacuum, and not only that, but a vacuum was actually essential for further research of electrical energy.
In 1660, Otto Von Guericke created a machine which could generate static electricity and that was the world’s first static electricity generator. Later in 1729, there was Stephen Gray from England who was the first to discover the principles of conduction of electricity. In 1733, another physicist named Charles du Fay, gave the world the negative and positive, then known as resinous and vitreous, and said that electricity existed in these two forms. These important discoveries marked the beginning of the early 18th century.
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Benjamin Franklin’s lightning rod
Then there was Benjamin Franklin, whose lightning rod and electricity were the first practical demonstration of electricity. His famous kite experiment is known to all. Further, these practical applications were taken forward by Henry Cavendish of England, Coulomb of France, who made several attempts to measure the conductivity of different materials and published his results.
The 1700s saw magnanimous inventions in the field of physics, and especially in the branch of electricity under it. In 1786, a scientist named Luigi Galvani gave us what we now understand as the electric basis of nerve impulse. He made the muscles of frogs’ twist, by passing an electric jolt through them.
Then came the 1800s
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The 1800s can be seen as the era where the laws of electricity were explored and experienced in depth. It can be started off by mentioning the “Seebeck” effect of the German physicist Thomas Seebeck. This man heated two ends of a wire and passed a small electric current through them. The current flows from one end to the other due to the difference of heat between the two points. This is how we came to know of thermoelectricity effect.
Michael Faraday of course, gave us the Faraday law and so many other contributions in the field of electricity. However, the most prominent thing the world got from him was his electromagnetic induction concept. This pioneering work of his, dealt with the working, the movement and all the details of electricity altogether. Later on, many inventions appeared from his experiments which came about a century later. His last name now honors the unit of capacitance as farad.
James Maxwell was one of those scientists who took the work of Michael Faraday and derived them into mathematical expressions. Today, Maxwell is the name given to a unit of magnetic flux, in his honor. He was a great mathematician from Scotland who is still regarded today, only second to the likes of Newton and Einstein.
Heinrich Hertz, a German physicist, laid the grounds for the vacuum tubes. This is not to be confused with Otto Von’s work. Hertz’s work can be considered to be the advanced level works of all these scientists before his period.
So, Hertz, through his experiments basically lay the founding stone for the development of telephone, radio, telegraph and even Television. He was the first to put forward the idea of electrical waves. In fact, he was pretty convinced that there were electromagnetic waves in the outer space.
The story of Alexander Graham Bell is rather interesting. He grew up in a household that was interested in sounds. His grandfather and father both taught speech to the deaf. This man’s contribution of telephone is known to many, but what most do not know is that a unit of sound ‘bel’ is named in his honor.
This was the achievement of great scientists in the field of electricity, until an upliftment named Tesla came to the forefront.
What Nikola Tesla Gave the World?
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During 1884, a Serbian immigrant, named Nikola Tesla landed on the soil of the United States. He was a poor man who had small pockets but rich ideas. Tesla had an inventive bent of mind right from his childhood. He once built a rotary engine which he powered by gluing insects to his paper wheels. Since then there had been no looking back. His inventive bent of mind gave us one discovery over another.
It is said that he could envision giant inventions in his mind itself, with each and every small detail intact. Due to this habit of his, one day, when walking the streets of Budapest, Hungary, the idea of developing Alternating currents struck his mind and the world was waiting to be changed.
Many of his works remained incomplete because he had lack of funds to carry out the experiments. However, some of his greatest gifts to the modern world include the discovery of alternating current, invention of electric motor, electric generator, wireless transmission of electricity to any point in the world, and of course the technology which today gives us electric power in our homes, factories and schools alike.
Nikola Tesla is one of the most underrated scientists in the history of science. Most of his ideas were ruled out by even the men of science, and those that were not ruled out, were blatantly stolen, without any recognition. When Tesla arrived in Paris, he found employment with none other than Thomas Alava Edison, who was then working with his Direct Current project. But Tesla had more far fetching dreams. He could see a brighter more potent Alternating Current becoming the energy of the future. This could have been the world’s most revolutionary inventions, but it had to wait a few years to become reality, as Edison wanted Tesla to fix his dynamo, which he did, but was not fully compensated for.
Albeit due to differences in their methods of work and their visions, Edison and Tesla parted ways, after about a year of working together. Tesla was finally given cooperation by George Westinghouse, with whom he was able to make his ideas of alternating current a reality. They harnessed electricity from the Niagara Falls using Tesla’s technology.
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Mr. Westinghouse’s and Tesla’s AC machines were being sold across the country and replacing the DC equipments of Edison which pre-existed. DC was slowly being retired and discarded. How could Edison and JP Morgan’s company have taken this lightly? Every method was being tried to stop this from happening.
During 1897, Edison and his company tried their best to prove that Tesla’s AC was harmful; to prove his point he electrocuted several animals. This is because Edison’s DC company as facing tough competition from the futuristic inventions of Tesla’s. This period of history is therefore known as the “War of Currents between AC and DC”.
In 1899 Tesla demonstrated “magic” to the world once again as he transmitted electricity from one point to another without the use of wires. That was the first use of wireless electricity. This means that all the electronic devices such as mobile phones and radios, which we use today, can somewhere be attributed to the great works of Tesla. This experiment of Tesla was known as the Pike Peak experiment as he chose Pike’s Peak in Colorado, to do his experiment.
The last and the most recent claims have been that of the radio. It was claimed that Marconi who had patented four tuned circuit models and a two tuned circuit design were originally Tesla’s. Thankfully in 1943, the Supreme Court granted the rights of radio to Tesla fully, and nullified the claims of Marchese Gugliemo Marconi.
Later due to unfortunate turn of events, Tesla’s financer John Astor drowned in the Titanic and since then he had a hard time finding finance to fund his experiments, but a lot of his works had been documented and after his death, the Federal Bureau of Investigations confiscated his work.
The US Patent Office has about 1200 patents registered under the name of Tesla till this day – that is some major contribution to the field of science. Without him, we wouldn’t even be experiencing electricity as we do today.