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History of Electricity Use


Thales of Miletus (640-546 B.C.) is credited with the discovery that amber when rubbed acquired the property of attracting light objects. The word electricity comes from "elektron" the Greek word for amber. Otto von Guericke invented the first static electric generator in 1675, while the first current generator was made by Alosio Galvani in 1780. But except for some supposed medicinal applications, electricity had little use.

Communication, the first of the great uses for electricity, began with the telegraph invented by Samuel Morse around 1840, to be followed by the telephone, radio and television. Thomas Edison added lighting in 1880, which was soon followed by working electric motors and electric heating. Most recently has come electronics and the computer revolution. In all electricity has fundamentally transformed the way we live.

As the practical uses for electricity grew and multiplied, so did the demand for its production. Edison built the first central power station and many power companies still bear his name. Growth in distribution lead to high voltage transmission and the interconnection of the modern power grid, with power plants sometimes located over a thousand miles from consumers. Quite recently the monopoly structure of the industry has begun to be dismantled in favor of competition among generators.

Coal-fired steam and water power were the first sources of energy used to make electricity commercially, later gas and oil were also burned to make steam. as well as fueling reciprocating engines. In the late 1960's gas and oil fired combustion turbines, similar to jet engines, were introduced, as was nuclear power. Fossil fuel still accounts for most production of electricity, about 70%, with coal powering about 75% of the fossil fraction.

Government Information:

Energy Information Administration (home page), plus:

Historical Data and Analysis provides production and consumption statistics.

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