A brief history of electricity

a brief history of electricity
March 8, 2019 Electricity

Electricity, a physical phenomenon that powers modern-day human existence. If you used a blender this morning, flicked on the TV, turned on the air conditioning or blew your hair dry with a hair dryer, you used electricity. Everywhere you turn, all our contemporary conveniences rely on it.

It’s an easy thing to take for granted, until the power goes out on your street and you’re left to cook dinner on a gas stove top that you had to light with matches, or you’re bathing small children by candlelight. Because it’s something we don’t think much about (until the power bill arrives), we’d like to take you through a brief history of electricity, and how it became something we truly struggle to live without.

a brief history of electricity

Firstly, what exactly is electricity?

Electricity is an energy form arising from the presence of charged particles like protons and electrons. This can be from a static accumulation of charge, or a dynamic current. Lightning is a naturally occurring electric effect.

A brief History

Whilst electrical phenomena have been the subject of much study since days long past, theoretical understanding remained limited until sometime between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It would yet be many years more before practical applications for electricity were in place.


  • Pre 1600 – humans are aware of static energy and natural energy sources such as the sun and lightning. They also know of electric shocks from encounters with ”electric fish”.
  • Approx 624-546 B.C – Thales of Miletus (modern day Turkey), was an early pre-Socratic philosopher, mathematician and astronomer who’s studies of electricity are the first that are documented.
  • Approx 1600 – Electricity is discovered by an English scientist named William Gilbert. He conducted widespread research on electricity and magnetism, with findings that shattered many of the common-held scientific beliefs of his time. In fact, he’s the one that came up with the word, “electricity.”
  • Mid 1700s – Benjamin Franklin experimented with electrical research, increasing the knowledge of electricity in the scientific community. His most famous incident occurred in 1752, when he attempted to fly a wet kite tied to a metal key during a thunderstorm. He was able to confirm the electrical nature of lightning during this experience, and thankfully lived to tell the tale!
  • 1791 – Luigi Galvani published his discovery of bio-electromagnetics. This proved that electricity was the medium allowing neurons to pass signals to our muscles.
  • 1819 – Hans Christian Orsted and Andre-Marie Ampere recognised electromagnetism as the unity of electric and magnetic phenomena.
  • 1821 – Michael Faraday invented the electric motor.
  • 1878 – Thomas Edison, an inventor, sees a need to bring electric lighting in to businesses and homes. The process begins.
  • 1887 – Henrich Hertz discovered that when electrodes were illuminated using ultraviolet light, it created electric sparks quite easily.
  • 1905 – Albert Einstein’s paper explaining experimental data about the photoelectric effect is published. This research would eventually win him a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.The photoelectric effect is used in photocells, which are found in modern-day solar panels.
  • Early 1900s – this time period produced the “cat’s-whisker detector”, the first solid-state device, which was first used in radio receivers.
  • 1920s – the Pit River – Cottonwood line was constructed for 220 KV for transporting power from hydroelectric plants in the Sierra Nevada area out to San Francisco bay. They came in to commercial service in 1923.
  • 1947 – the transistor was invented. This was followed by many common solid-state devices such as microprocessor chips and RAM as the years passed.
  • 20th century – this entire century saw rapid industrialisation which resulted in the construction of electrical transmission lines and grids that became the foundation of the electrically powered homes we live in today.

a brief history of electricity

As you can see, it was a long process, but the results are amazing. We live in a world with remarkable conveniences that previous generations didn’t have access to, from lightbulbs to coffee machines, and from clothes washers and dryers to home sound systems. All run by electricity.

At Clements, all our specialist services exist thanks to the discoveries made over the history of electricity. Our sister company, Sun2u specialise in solar power and electrical. They have decades of experience in the industry, and for all your commercial electrical needs, you can contact their friendly team on (02) 4001 0505, or see the electrical services page for more details.


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