Invention of electricity (1800)

Invention of electricity (1800)

The invention of electricity, or rather the development of the science of electrification phenomena, was materialized by the Coulomb's law (1785), allowing Volta to create the first electric battery (1800) then to Thomas edison to light up factories and homes (1879). If theelectrical phenomena have always existed and have been observed since antiquity, we had to waitthe end of the 18th century to theorize them, and the 19th century to master them.

The discovery of electricity

The discovery of electricity, by the observation of the phenomena of electrification, is attributed to the Greek philosopher and scientist Thais of Miletus, at 6th century BC. J.-C. : he had observed that a vigorously rubbed piece of amber acquired the property of attracting small, light bodies to it, like marbles of elderberry marrow.

Subsequently, other substances with similar properties were discovered, and the mysterious force which thus manifested itself was named electricitas in 17th century scientific Latin (from the Greek word elektron, "amber") and "electricity" in French, circa 1733. And in 1752 Benjamin franklin highlights the electrical origin of a second manifestation that has remained very mysterious until then: lightning and its impressive lightning bolts.

These various observations and experiments have thus demonstrated that the electrification of a body can be obtained in three ways: by friction, through contact with a body already electrified, or finally by affecting, bringing it close enough to an already electrified body.

But if the discovery of electrical phenomena is one thing, their mastery and energy conversion is another!

Who invented electricity?

Between 1785 and 1791, the French physicist Charles de Coulomb established the quantitative laws of electrostatic and magnetic attraction. He invented the torsion balance, which allows precise measurement of the forces exerted by electric and magnetic charges. Using his scales, he formulates the law of attraction and repulsion of electric charges. On this principle, Volta built the first electric battery in 1800. To do this, he stacked discs of copper and zinc alternately. Each pair is separated from its neighbor by a cloth soaked in salt water. Thanks to this assembly, it obtains a continuous electric current. Then Peter Barlow, British mathematician and physicist, built the first electric motor (Barlow wheel, 1822). But it will take a little longer for electricity to reach homes.

This is how the American Thomas edison which takes care of it with the development in 1879 of a bulb "Safe and inexpensive" and built the first power station in Manhattan (a coal turbine turning an alternator), then in Paris (“City of Light”), London and Berlin. Thanks to these two major inventions,Edison is thus considered by many to be the "inventor" of electricity, although it would actually be more appropriate to quoteVolta.

Soon after, the current replaces steam to run more sophisticated machines in the factories. This is the second industrial revolution which begins, with among other variations the modern electric motors and the electric batteries.

To go further on the history of electricity

- The fabulous history of inventions - From mastery of fire to immortality. Dunod, 2018.

- History of electricity: From amber to electron, by Gérard Borvon. Vuibert, 2009.


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