For centuries humanity has been awed, inspired, and fascinated by electricity. Scientists of all generations have been confounded by the idea that it does exist but not understanding exactly how. Not until pretty recently, anyways.
The first appearance in print of someone even using the word “electric” and “electricity” was in 1646. (This was in Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica.) These terms came from the Latin word electricus, coined earlier that century by the English scientist William Gilbert who had made a careful study of electricity and magnetism. But when was electricity widely used?
Even though in the next couple hundred years we see scientists beginning to understand electricity a little more, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the most progress and application took place. And that is where our modern history of electricity takes off.
Though scientists understood that electricity exists and even how to produce and harness it (thanks to Michael Faraday, 1831), they struggled for a while with finding a practical use for it.
Enter: Thomas Edison.
During the end of the 19th century lived many great minds working on electrical application. But, it is Mr. Edison that finally produced an electric light bulb in 1879 that was reliable and long-lasting.
First use of this new luxury was by means of generators installed into buildings and homes. For instance, when was electricity widely used in the White House? In 1891 electric lighting was installed in the White House itself, powered by means of two generators. Neither the President nor his wife felt safe touching the light switches, however, for fear of electrocution. They left that responsibility to the staff.
Soon afterwards, electrical stations in major cities began to spring up. This was great and all, but most of them were only able to power a few city blocks. So, in 1892, Thomas Edison’s personal assistant and executive at the lighting company, Samuel Insull, left to make great things for himself and others. In so doing he was able to achieve something that changed the electric industry forever.
Insull started work at an electric generation and distribution company called Chicago Edison. In the next decades Insull created cost savings in large-scale operations. In so doing, the more customers he got, the cheaper it was to provide power, and the more customers he got. And on and on.
Using high voltage transmission lines, Insull brought electricity to the suburbs and then the countryside. Over time, Samuel Insull made it possible for everyone to have electricity, not just the rich and famous. He consolidated. He mass-produced. He networked power. He changed pricing for customers who used electricity differently. He brought electricity to rural areas. He was the master businessman of electricity.
Sadly, Insull’s companies and wealth were lost in the Great Depression, along with so much else. As politics was always an issue from the beginning of electric power, now they took over pretty much completely. Federal intervention ensued and laws were enacted, both in the 30s and later in the troubled 70s. But, it wasn’t the death of electrical use.
Today, we are a far cry from the start of harnessing electricity. We use it on a minute by minute basis. Not only do we use electricity in the powering of our homes – in lights, appliances, etc – but so much more. Our cars, planes, trains. Our phones, computers, gaming devices. Internet storage facilities, office buildings, grocery stores. Our lives are powered by electricity.
The electric industry continues to change and grow, despite constant politics. While making use of renewable resources, such as wind energy, the possibilities in electricity are far from over. In fact, the potential is nearly endless. There are things about it we still don’t understand, things left to learn and use.
To quote Sir Humphry Davy: “Nothing is so fatal to the progress of the human mind as to suppose our views of science are ultimate; that there are no new mysteries in nature; that our triumphs are complete; and that there are no new worlds to conquer.”
Recognizing electricity was observation. Curiosity sparked research. Imagination and the vision of potential worked together to drive men and women to the future.
So: Observe. Always remember. Keep dreaming. It is how you answered the question: When was electricity widely used?
And use Wire Works Co. for all your electrical needs. 😉
Wire Works Company Incorporated
102 S Tejon Street Suite 1100
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80903
Phone: (719) 492-6955
Wire Works Co Inc provides electrical wiring in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the surrounding areas. Give us a call today – our specialized consultations can take your lighting installation, powering devices over ethernet & home automation to the next level. Our electricians are certified and hold all proper licensing & insurance