Why Was Electricity Created?

Electricity is one of the most important scientific discoveries that has profoundly impacted society. We now take for granted being able to power our homes, workplaces and cities with electrical energy. But electricity did not always exist, and was only harnessed in the last few centuries through pioneering research and inventions.

The development of electric power systems enabled new technologies like electric lighting, motors, and electronics. Electricity transformed how we live and work, enabling modern conveniences that previous generations could not have imagined.

But what drove the original discovery and spread of electricity? Why was electricity invented in the first place? To understand how we arrived at our electrically-powered society today, we must look back at the beginnings of electrical science.

Early Discoveries

The understanding of electricity started with observations and discoveries by ancient civilizations. Some key developments include:

– Thales of Miletus in ancient Greece discovered static electricity by rubbing fur on amber around 600 BC.

– William Gilbert, physician to Queen Elizabeth I of England, studied magnetism and recognized the difference between magnetism and static electricity in the 1500s.

– Benjamin Franklin demonstrated a link between lightning and static electricity with his famous kite experiment in 1752.

– Alessandro Volta built the first battery, called the voltaic pile, in 1800 using alternating discs of zinc and copper with brine-soaked cloth between them.

– Humphry Davy created the first electric light using a strip of platinum connected to a battery in 1809.

These pioneering experiments and inventions revealed the principles of static electricity, magnetism, current electricity and electromagnetism, paving the way for more advanced electrical technologies.

Inventing the Battery

alessandro volta's invention of the battery in 1800 enabled new experiments and research into electricity.
A major breakthrough in the development of electricity came in 1800 when Italian physicist Alessandro Volta invented the voltaic pile, the first electric battery that produced a reliable, steady current of electricity. Volta’s battery consisted of alternating discs of zinc and copper separated by brine soaked paper. This voltaic pile allowed Volta to demonstrate conclusively the electrical potential difference between dissimilar metals, proving that electricity could be derived through chemical reactions rather than simply static electricity.

Volta’s invention of the battery paved the way for new experiments with electricity, as scientists now had access to a relatively stable source of electric current to power their investigations. The development of the battery ranks among the most pivotal achievements in the history of electricity.

Electromagnetic Rotation

One of the most important breakthroughs in the development of electricity was made by British scientist Michael Faraday. In 1821, Faraday discovered that moving a magnet inside a coil of wire induced an electric current in the wire. This discovery established the scientific principle of electromagnetic induction, which showed that electricity could be generated from magnetism.

Faraday continued to experiment with electromagnetic induction and invented the first electric motor in 1821. His motor consisted of a free-hanging wire that would rotate around a magnet when electrical current from a battery was applied to the wire. This was the first motor powered by electricity rather than steam.

The electric motor works on the principles that Faraday discovered – that a magnetic field induces current in a nearby conductor. When current is applied to the wire loop, the interaction between the magnetic field and the current creates rotational force that causes the loop to spin. This breakthrough enabled the practical use of electric power in devices and machinery.

Faraday’s experiments connecting electricity and magnetism were groundbreaking. They led to the invention of generators and transformers to produce and control electricity. His work enabled the development of electric power systems that could deliver electricity across long distances to homes, businesses, and factories.

Edison’s Light Bulb

Thomas Edison is perhaps most famously known for his work to create a commercially-viable light bulb. Throughout the 1870s, Edison focused a major part of his energy on developing a practical incandescent electric light. Up to that point, electric lighting was dominated by arc lamps, which were bright but expensive and impractical for indoor use. Edison believed that an incandescent lamp based on a simple, high-resistance filament would be much more suitable for indoor lighting. This type of light bulb had already been demonstrated by other inventors, but no one had been able to make a version that was economically viable.

After testing thousands of different filaments, Edison and his team at his laboratory in Menlo Park eventually settled on a carbonized bamboo filament that could burn for over 1200 hours. While other types of filaments like platinum were more durable, they were also much more expensive. Edison knew that cost-effectiveness would be key for commercial success. In 1879, Edison filed a patent for his improved incandescent lamp and began devising a system for the large scale distribution of electricity to power the lamps. And thus the age of electric illumination was born.

The success of Edison’s light bulb galvanized the growth of the early electricity industry. As electric lighting spread to businesses and homes across America and around the world, it fundamentally changed human society. The electric light allowed people to work, socialize and travel at all hours of the day. It brought illumination to areas where candles, gas lamps or oil lamps previously stood. Perhaps most importantly, it was a keystone technology that paved the way for modern electrical power systems and all of the innovations we now take for granted in an electrified world.

Early Power Systems

As electricity became more widely available in the late 1800s, there was a need to develop more extensive power systems to generate and distribute it. In the early days, electricity was generated locally using small power plants that served just a few surrounding buildings or city blocks. But as demand grew, larger centralized power stations were built that could supply electricity to entire cities and regions.

These early commercial power stations typically used coal or sometimes hydro power to generate electricity. The power was distributed at relatively low voltages to local customers. As systems grew larger, higher voltage transmission lines were developed that could carry electricity over longer distances more efficiently. This allowed large power plants to be built away from cities and still supply power to urban areas.

In the 1880s and 1890s, AC power transmission allowed electricity to be transmitted over hundreds of miles. Large power plants could be built near the fuel source and then supply electricity to multiple cities and towns. Regional power grids began to form, interconnecting generating stations with local distribution systems. Utilities were created as commercial enterprises to generate and sell electricity to customers.

By the early 1900s, electricity was fast becoming an essential service. The rapidly growing grids and distribution networks laid the foundations for the extensive power systems we rely on today. The electrification of societies and economies in the 20th century owes much to these pioneering developments in early power generation and transmission systems.

Spread of Electricity

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, electricity began to spread rapidly in developed cities and towns. After Thomas Edison and others successfully demonstrated electric lighting in the 1870s and 1880s, many cities started building centralized power stations and distribution systems to deliver electricity to homes, businesses and industries. Electrification started in major metropolitan areas like New York, London, Paris and Berlin, with power stations transmitting electricity over wires to customers located within a few miles.

As the technology improved and demand grew, power grids expanded outward from cities to bring electricity to surrounding suburbs and rural areas. Wires were strung on utility poles along streets to distribute electricity to neighborhoods. The growing ubiquity of electric lights, appliances and machines changed daily life for millions and became a symbol of modernization. Electricity allowed cities to develop nightlife and business activities after dark for the first time. Homes became brighter and household chores less burdensome with lighting, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and other electric appliances. Factories achieved unprecedented levels of automation and efficiency with electric motors and mass production.

Within just a few decades, electricity went from a novelty to an essential utility in homes, businesses and public infrastructure across many parts of the world. The rapid spread of electric power systems demonstrated electricity’s immense versatility and benefit to society. Once the initial infrastructure was built, even remote areas could gain access to the revolutionary capabilities of electrical energy.

Modern Applications

Electricity has enabled countless devices and technologies in the modern world. From phones to computers to factories and machines, modern life runs on electricity. Here are some key examples:

Home Appliances: Electricity powers refrigerators, ovens, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and small kitchen appliances that make daily life more convenient.

Entertainment: Television, audio systems, gaming consoles, and other electronics rely on electricity for power. Movies and concerts use electric lighting, microphones, and amplifiers.

Transportation: Electric trains, subways, electric cars, and electric buses all depend on electricity. Traffic lights and automatic doors also require power.

Medicine: Electricity enables x-rays, MRI machines, ultrasounds, and a wide array of medical devices for diagnosis and treatment.

Communications: Mobile phones, computers, the internet, radio, and satellites connect people using electricity and electronic signals.

Industry: Factories use electric motors, assembly lines, robots, and heavy machinery to mass produce goods.

Impact on Society

Electricity has had a profound impact on cultures and lifestyles around the world. When electricity became widely available in the early 20th century, it dramatically changed how people lived and worked.

One of the biggest lifestyle changes was the introduction of electric lighting in homes, businesses, and public spaces. Whereas people previously relied on candles, oil lamps, and fires for light, electric lights allowed activities, work and socializing to continue late into the evening. The increased illumination contributed to higher productivity, extended opening hours for shops, and growth of nightlife and evening entertainment options.

Electricity enabled the spread of major home appliances like refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and sewing machines. By taking over difficult domestic tasks, these appliances allowed women in particular more time for leisure, education and employment. Later on, devices like televisions furnished information and entertainment within the home.

In industry, electrically-powered machines and assembly lines radically increased manufacturing output. This mass production allowed more affordable consumer goods and contributed to the rise of consumer and popular culture. Electricity also enabled large-scale infrastructure projects like dams, railways, and vertical cities.

Overall, access to electricity significantly improved quality of life, connectivity, economic productivity, and social progress. It remains indispensable worldwide for powering modern society and lifestyles.


Electricity has transformed the modern world and improved quality of life in countless ways. The key developments that enabled widespread electrical power began with early experiments with static electricity and batteries. This led to the invention of electric generators and motors, allowing electricity to be produced on a large scale. With Edison’s lightbulb, electricity could be used to light homes and streets. The establishment of electric grids allowed power to be distributed to communities and sparked rapid industrialization and innovation. Today, we rely on electricity to power our homes, businesses, transportation, and communication networks. The many applications of electricity have revolutionized every aspect of society. Our modern lifestyles, economic prosperity, and technological capabilities all owe a great debt to the brilliant minds that unlocked the power of electricity.

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