- "If it weren't for electricity, we'd all be watching television by candlelight."
- –George Gobel
Historical Context Edit
Mankind has known electricity existed since the first bunch of Neanderthals got blasted by a lightning bolt; in fact, for millennia afterwards, electricity in this form was associated with angry gods. Egyptian texts dating from c. 2750 BC record people getting shocks from electric eels. Around 600 BC Thales of Miletus observed that static electricity could be generated by rubbing rods of amber with cat’s fur (but didn’t investigate what the cats thought of this). Greek, Roman, and Arabic physicians attested to the numbing effects of electric shocks delivered by various animals. Electricity, however, remained nothing more than a scientific curiosity through the 17th Century.
In 1600 the British dilettante William Gilbert made a comparative study of magnetism and this little-understood force, for which he coined the term electricus (from the Greek electron meaning “amber,” from which he was generating the static sort), hence “electricity.” The work of others – von Guericke, Boyle, Gray, and du Fay – led history’s ultimate dilettante Benjamin Franklin to “discover” electricity while flying a kite with a key attached in a thunderstorm (don’t try this at home). Franklin never did anything with his discovery, but it set others off searching for more sources of electricity. Luigi Galvani discovered bioelectricity, whereby messages are passed between nerve and muscle cells. Alessandro Volta invented the battery, a more reliable source of electricity than rubbing cats. Ampere discovered electromagnetism; and Michael Faraday built the first electric motor in 1821.
Advances in electricity in the second half of the 19th Century by tinkerers like Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Alexander Graham Bell, and Lord Kelvin revolutionized life around the world. The telegraph and telephone made the world smaller. The electric light opened home and workplace to night activity, and the phonograph, radio, and movies were certainly entertaining. Adding electricity to a chair was thought a more humane method of executing miscreants. The creation of power plants that pushed energy in the form of electricity into people’s homes changed civilization beyond comprehension.