Did Edison invent the light bulb, Marconi the radio, Bell the telephone, Morse the telegraph? The answers are no. They didn’t invent the wheel. They were instrumental in making it better and, in some cases, obtaining the patent.
Electrical history goes back before Christ and brings us to the computer age. Along this journey you will discover it took several people, along the way, to make the light bulb glow.
The journey won’t end with this article, as we are constantly discovering new inventions that will someday even take us to the stars.
|Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
His kite experiment demonstrated that lightning is electricity. He was the first to use the terms positive and negative charge.
Franklin was one of seventeen children. He quit school at age ten to become a printer. His life is the classic story of a self-made man achieving wealth and fame through determination and intelligence.
James Watt (1736-1819) was born in Scotland. Although he conducted no electrical experiments, he must not be overlooked. He was an instrument maker by trade and set up a repair shop in Glasgow in 1757. Watt thought that the steam engine would replace animal power, where the number of horses replaced seemed an obvious way to measure the charge for performance. Interestingly, Watt measured the rate of work exerted by a horse drawing rubbish up an old mine shaft and found it amounted to about 22,000 ft-lbs per minute. He added a margin of 50% arriving at 33,000 ft-lbs.
William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) was best known in his invention of a new temperature scale based on the concept of an absolute zero of temperature at -273°C (-460°F). To the end of his life, Thomson maintained fierce opposition to the idea that energy emitted by radioactivity came from within the atom. One of the greatest scientific discoveries of the 19th century, Thomson died opposing one of the most vital innovations in the history of science.
Thomas Seebeck (1770-1831) a German physicist was the discoverer of the “Seebeck effect”.
He twisted two wires made of different metals and heated a junction where the two wires met. He produced a small current. The current is the result of a flow of heat from the hot to the cold junction. This is called thermoelectricity. Thermo is a Greek word meaning heat.
Michael Faraday (1791-1867) an Englishman, made one of the most significant discoveries in the history of electricity: Electromagnetic induction. His pioneering work dealt with how electric currents work. Many inventions would come from his experiments, but they would come fifty to one hundred years later.
Failures never discouraged Faraday. He would say; “the failures are just as important as the successes.” He felt failures also teach. The farad, the unit of capacitance is named in the honor of Michael Faraday.
James Maxwell (1831-1879) a Scottish mathematician translated Faraday’s theories into mathematical expressions. Maxwell was one of the finest mathematicians in history. A maxwell is the electromagnetic unit of magnetic flux, named in his honor.
Today he is widely regarded as secondary only to Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein in the world of science.
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) was one of the most well known inventors of all time with 1093 patents. Self-educated, Edison was interested in chemistry and electronics.During the whole of his life, Edison received only three months of formal schooling, and was dismissed from school as being retarded, though in fact a childhood attack of scarlet fever had left him partially deaf.
Nikola Tesla was born of Serbian parents July 10, 1856 and died a broke and lonely man in New York City January 7, 1943. He envisioned a world without poles and power lines. Referred to as the greatest inventive genius of all time. Tesla’s system triumphed to make possible the first large-scale harnessing of Niagara Falls with the first hydroelectric plant in the United States in 1886.
October 1893 George Westinghouse (1846-1914)was awarded the contract to build the first generators at Niagara Falls. He used his money to buy up patents in the electric field. One of the inventions he bought was the transformer from William Stanley. Westinghouse invented the air brake system to stop trains, the first of more than one hundred patents he would receive in this area alone. He soon founded the Westinghouse Air Brake Company in 1869.
Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) born in Scotland, was raised in a family that was interested and involved in the science of sound. Bell’s father and grandfather both taught speech to the deaf. A unit of sound level is called a bel in his honor. Sound levels are measured in tenths of a bel, or decibels. The abbreviation for decibel is dB.
Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894) a German physicist, laid the ground work for the vacuum tube. He laid the foundation for the future development of radio, telephone, telegraph, and even television. He was one of the first people to demonstrate the existence of electric waves. Hertz was convinced that there were electromagnetic waves in space.
Otto Hahn (1879-1968), a German chemist and physicist, made the vital discovery which led to the first nuclear reactor. He uncovered the process of nuclear fission by which nuclei of atoms of heavy elements can break into smaller nuclei, in the process releasing large quantities of energy. Hahn was awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1944.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Einstein’s formula proved that one gram of mass can be converted into a torrential amount of energy. To do this, the activity of the atoms has to occur in the nucleus. E = energy, M = mass, and C = the speed of light which is 186,000 miles per second. When you square 186,000 you can see it would only take a small amount of mass to produce a huge amount of energy.