Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterIt is difficult to determine exactly who discovered electricity. Many misconceptions abound, especially the belief that Benjamin Franklin is the father of electricity or some such nonsense. My apologies to the Americans who are having heart attacks right now. The truth about the discovery of electricity is a bit more complex than a man flying his kite. The Franklin experiment helped establish the connection between lightening and electricity, nothing more.
The history of electricity goes back more than two thousand years. The Ancient Greeks discovered that rubbing fur on amber caused an attraction between the two. By the 17th century, many electricity-related discoveries had been made, such as the invention of an early electrostatic generator, the differentiation between positive and negative currents, and the classification of materials as conductors or insulators. In the year 1600, English physician William Gilbert conned the term electric, from the Greek elektron, to identify the force that certain substances exert when rubbed against each other. Fairly recently, researchers and archeologists have discovered pots that they believe may have been ancient batteries meant to produce light at ancient Roman sites.
In 1800 Alessandro Volta constructed the voltaic pile(an early electric battery)that produced a steady electric current. He also discovered that particular chemical reactions could produce electricity. Volta also created the first transmission of electricity by linking positively-charged and negatively-charged connectors and driving an electrical charge, or voltage, through them. In 1831 electricity became viable for use in technology, when Michael Faraday created the electric dynamo(a crude power generator). This opened the door to Thomas Edison and his light bulb. Here we have another opportunity for a rash of heart attacks because I have not mentioned Tesla yet. So, Nikola Tesla was an engineer, inventor, and all around electrical wizard. He was an important contributor to the birth of commercial electricity, he had many revolutionary developments in electromagnetism, and had competing patents with Marconi for the invention of radio. He is well known for his work with alternating current(AC), AC motors, and the polyphase distribution system.
You can see the reasons that there can be some confusion as to who discovered electricity. It was known for thousands of years, but when it came time to develop it commercially and scientifically, there were several great minds working on the problem at the same time.
We have written many articles about electricity for Universe Today. Here’s a separate article about electricity, and here’s an article about static electricity.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Electromagnetism. Listen here, Episode 103: Electromagnetism.