Saturday, July 9, 2016

The History of Electricity


Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge. Electricity gives a wide variety of well-known effects, such as lightning, static electricity, electromagnetic induction and electric current.

An atom that gains electrons has more negative particles and is negatively charge. A "charged" atom is called an "ion." Electrons can be made to move from one atom to another. When those electrons move between the atoms, a current of electricity is created.

Building upon the work of Benjamin Franklin, many other scientists studied electricity and began to understand more about how it works. For example, in 1879, Thomas Edison vented the electric light bulb and our world has been brighter ever since. But, was Benjamin Franklin really the first person to discover electricity? The truth about the discovery of electricity is a bit more complex than a man flying his kite. It actually goes back more than two thousand years.

Benjmin Franklin

In about 600 BC, the Ancient Greeks discovered that rubbing fur on amber (fossilized tree resin) caused an attraction between the two. What the Greeks discovered was actually static electricity. Additionally, researchers and archeologists in the 1930’s discovered pots with sheets of copper inside that they believe may have been ancient batteries meant to produce light at ancient Roman sites. Similar devices were found in archeological digs near Baghdad meaning ancient Persians may have also used an early form of batteries.

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 used the Latin word “electricus” to describe the force that certain substances exert when rubbed against each other. A few years later another English scientist, Thomas Browne, wrote several books and he used the word “electricity” to describe his investigations based on Gilbert’s work.


In 1752, Ben Franklin conducted his experiment with a kite, a key, and a storm. This simply proved that lightning and tiny electric sparks were the same thing.

Later, American inventor and industrialist George Westinghouse purchased and developed Tesla’s patented motor for generating alternating current, and the work of Westinghouse, Tesla and others gradually convinced American society that the future of electricity lay with AC rather than DC.


Others who worked to bring the use of electricity to where it is today include Scottish inventor James Watt, Andre Ampere, a French mathematician, and German mathematician and physicist George Ohm.


Worldwide access to electricity, according to The World Bank, has increased from 76% in 1990 to 85% in 2012, powering millions of digital cameras, flashes, computer editing software and storage devices. But electricity and photography weren’t always so pervasive. Photography first began as a mechanical and chemical process, reliant on natural light. As electricity crept into daily life, photographers capitalized on the glowing current as a source of light to illuminate new landscapes. 


Alfred Stieglitz chose New York City lamp posts on a misty night in 1897 to make his exposure. His street-scene photograph would have been impossible without the development of this new technology.

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An exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angles was focused on electricity.


After Electric Dress:, negative 2001; print 2002 

Pure Energy and Neurotic Man, 1940 - 1941

High Voltage, 1937

Minature Lightning Show, 1895

Neon Signs, 1930-1939

First Synchronized Powder Flash, 1920

A Night View of Broadway, New York City, 1925

Disconnection, 2005

Power Station Near Mt. Fuji, Japan, 1955

The Glow of Night, New York City, 1897

Stockholm at Night with Cicular Lights

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