A Ridiculously Brief History of Electricity

Around 2600 years ago, Greek experimenters observed that invisible fields of attraction could be generated by rubbing amber (petrified tree resin) on lamb’s wool.  Once charged in this way, the wool would attract light materials such as feathers and straw.  If rubbed hard enough, miniature lightning-like sparks could be generated.  Humans had begun to produce electricity.  The phenomenon was duly noted, without any understanding of its causes, and essentially left unexplored for nearly two thousand years.

 


 

The amber-rubbing business was picked up again by an English scientist named Dr. William Gilbert in 1600 A.D.  On a milestone day for science, the good doctor was replicating the Greeks' experiment with amber and wool.  As he moved a piece of electrostatically charged wool close to a compass, he noticed a deflection in its magnetic needle.  Sir William had stumbled upon a fundamental precept of modern electrical theory: magnetism and electricity are manifestations of a spectrum of energy that we now call electromagnetism.  That same year, he published his great study of magnetism, De Magnete (On the Magnet).  It gave the first rational explanation for the mysterious ability of the compass needle to point north-south: the Earth itself was magnetic.  This discovery became a key to unlocking the science and technology of electricity.

Practically everything we do today with electricity is based on the fact that changing magnetic fields produce electric fields and changing electrical fields produce magnetic fields.  Every electric motor, generator, transformer, telecommunication device, or electric appliance is made possible by this interaction of electromagnetic forces.

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