Like many other concepts that came into widespread use during the Industrial Revolution, electricity was known, but could not be effectively applied, for centuries. The ancient Greeks, in about the 6 th century B.C., discovered that friction between fur and substances such as amber caused the amber to attract smaller particles and even to cause a spark to move between the two objects. They referred to the amber as an “electron”, which term was later used when electricity and atomic theory were understood. Though the presence of some force was unmistakeably existant, it was not until the early seventeenth century that much progress was made toward discovering and utilizing it.
William Gilbert, an English physicist, revisited the interaction of amber and magnets. He introduced the concept of electricity as a force into the scientific community. Investigation of the topic followed, leading experimental physicists to come to comclusions about electricity before the electron theory of atoms was formulated. Robert Boyle found that a vacuum did not prevent electrostatic attractive or repulsive forces in 1675. Some materials, which transferred electricity, and others which did not, were called conductors and insulators respectively. C.F. du Fay influenced the modern concept of the atom as well as the electric process by assigning “positive” and “negative” types of electricity. By the mid-eighteenth century, electricity could be stored in a Leyden jar or released in an electrostatic current.
This in turn led to further advances later in the century. Though it is unlikely that he did so by flying a kite in a thunderstorm, Benjamin Franklin did establish a correlation between thunderstorms (the buildup of negative charge in the atmosphere, discharged in a stream of electons to the earth) and electricity. Luigi Galvani's experience electrocuting a dead frog led to Alessandro Volta's discovery that two metal samples in a liquid conduct electricity (two metals in an ionic solution exchange electrons), yielding an electric current. This current was steady, and could be measured in discrete units, which came to be called Volts.
However, what allowed electricity to be applied to industry and other practical uses was Michael Faraday's 1831 discovery that moving a magnet through a coiled conductor (such as copper wire) generated an electric current. After further investigation into electro-dynamism, or current, by Andre Marie Ampere, and into electric resistance by George Simon Ohm, the principles of electricity could be applied.
In the 1830-40's, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone created the telegraph, which facilitated instant communication across long distances. The system was adopted by Samuel Morse in the United States at about the same time.
Another important development was Thomas Edison's discovery of the DC current generator, which could provide entire cities with electric power. This allowed him and Joseph Swan to invent, jointly manufacture, and create a structure of power lines and other equipment for incandescent light bulbs by 1882. while electric light had previously been used, the unenclosed wire arcs were noisy and inconvenient to operate. This was later replaced by the tungsten-filament lamp, which gave off more light.
Later, George Westinghouse, building upon Nikola Tesla's designs, devised the AC current, which transmitted large amounts of electricity.
The gradual overtaking of industrialized cities with wiring for light made way for other appliances, such as stoves and laundry machines, to come into use.
The discovery, analysis, and accomodation of electricity for common use had an enormous effect on society and economy. Electrification changed the schedules of those who had lighting installed in their homes or workplaces. Now, both at-home socialization (for the wealthy) and late-night work could take place even when there was no natural light. Electric apparatuses such as telegraphs meant that people could communicate rapidly across long distances, even across the Atlantic Ocean after the installation of the trans-Atlantic telegraph line, to discuss personal affairs as well as to transmit news and make business decisions. Finally, electricity found myriad applications in the operation of actual factory machinery. This development drastically changed productivity levels, communicability, and people's domestic, social, and working habits during this period, and would eventually become the symbol for the full industrialization of a nation.
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“Electricity.” Wikipedia. 2 December 2005 . < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity >