Energy Management

Great Moments in Electric History

3 min read

Take a moment to think about your morning routine. You wake up to an alarm clock, take a warm shower, make a pot of coffee and fry up an egg. When you get to work, you turn on the lights to your office and turn on your computer to check your email.

What do all these little moments have in common? Electricity!

The fact is, electricity is everywhere in our daily lives. It is such a large part of our lives that we only stop to think about our electricity if there’s an outage. Taking a look back, the history of electricity is rife with failed experiments, incredible visionaries and plenty of contentious debates.

At Constellation, we believe it is important to respect the value of electricity in our world today. In order to help electrify your interest on the topic, here are some great moments in electricity history:

585 BC: 2600 years ago, a Greek man named Thales of Miletus was the first person to make note of electric properties. By rubbing pieces of amber with materials like cat fur and feathers, Thales of Miletus earned the claim as the first person to discover static electricity.

1600: It took a staggering 2200 years following Thales’ experiments before the term was officially coined. Electricity, coming from the Greek word for amber, was first used by William Gilbert, Queen Elizabeth’s physician.

1800: Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist, is credited for the invention of the electric battery. He also disproved the theory that electricity could only be generated from living beings. This discovery lead to the development of electrochemistry. We honor his work today by using voltage as a unit of measurement.

1827:  Nearly two centuries before hybrid and fully-electric vehicles hit the market, a Slovak-Hungarian priest named Anyos Jedlik created the first electric vehicle. Since it wasn’t commercially viable, it was quickly replaced by the combustion engine.

1858: A group of shipping vessels worked in conjunction to lay roughly 2,000 lines of telegraph cable at a depth of two miles. This completed the first transatlantic telegraph line. The first communications to cross the wire were letters of congratulation offered between U.S. President James Buchanan and Britain’s Queen Victoria.  

1879: Thomas Edison developed the modern incandescent light bulb. While other bulbs were created in the years leading up to 1879, Edison’s patented bulb is said to have lasted 1,200 hours. This is compared to the 40-hour bulbs that were standard at the time, helping to bring lighting to the masses.

1882: Today, a portion of renewable energy generated around the world comes from hydroelectric plants. The first hydroelectric power plant opened and began generating energy in 1882 on Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin.

1882: Thomas Edison opens the first electrical power distribution system in Manhattan using direct current (DC) technology. DC remained the standard in the United States for a brief period of time. When Edison’s rival, Nikola Tesla emerged with a competing technology in the subsequent years, this changed.

1891: Nikola Tesla invents the Tesla Coil. The Tesla Coil is the first instance of wireless electricity. This helped to bring awareness of alternating current (AC) and sparked the “War of the Currents” between Edison and Tesla. Today, almost all DC has been displaced by AC. Tesla’s discovery helped set the stage for some of the technological marvels we are still discovering today.

1965: Researchers at MIT, with the help of the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), were able to make computers communicate over a telephone wire for the first time. This network was initially referred to as ARPANET. Today, we know it as the Internet.

1977: A serious blackout that took out electricity to nearly all of New York City for two days in 1977 enacted the U.S. Department of Energy Organization Act. President Jimmy Carter signed into law this act that created the Department of Energy. Since 1977, the Department of Energy has been responsible for preventing energy crises and developing new technology.

2016: Just last year, history was made when a proposal for a battery farm beat out a conventional power plant. This was the first time this has ever happened. The battery farm is poised to become the largest in the world and will be built just outside of Los Angeles. The plant will also help the city lift pressure on its exhausted electrical grid. It is due to be completed and operational by 2021.

To learn more about the energy that drives your world, check out Constellation.

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