Ever wonder what’s the history of electricity, which has become a daily necessity to modern man? To start, we have to look into the history of electromagnetism. The history of Electromagnetism can be categorized into two eras; classical and modern eras. This covers from the classical era of the fundamental laws of electricity and magnetism to the modern era inventions based on knowledge discovered regarding EM waves. The history starts 2800 years ago where the attractive force of magnetite was reported by a Greek, Thales of Miletus who first described how rubbing amber caused it to develop a force that could pick up light objects such as feathers. This is now known as “static electricity”.
But the word electric would first appeared in print around 1600 and christened by the physician William Gilbert to Queen Elizabeth I. In 1733, Charles-Francois Du Fay introduced the notion that electricity involves two types of fluids, one positive and the other negative. The same types repel and opposite types attract each other. The invention of the capacitor in 1745 made it possible to store the significant amount of electric charge in a single device. With the knowledge of the capacitor, Benjamin Franklin, one of the most well known America’s Founding Fathers, demonstrated lightning is a form of electricity by transferred the electric charge from the cloud to a capacitor via silk kite flown in a thunderstorm.
The first man to scientifically quantify electricity in a mathematical formula however is by the French Physicist Charles-Augustin de Coulomb, whose name is enshrined in the SI unit of an electrical charge. His formula characterize the electrical force between two charges in terms of their strength and polarities and the distance between them. Many men would follow after him using his knowledge of the nature of electrical charge. Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist invented the first electric battery in the year 1800. He is followed by the American scientist, Joseph Henry who showed that electric currents can induce magnetism and developed the earliest dc electric motor. Later on, Michael Faraday would build the first electric generator. He also demonstrated that a changing magnetic field induces an electric field. With this contribution, his namesake is set as the SI unit of capacitance.
In 1873 the four well-known equations representing the foundation of classical electromagnetic theory were formed by James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell’s theory was verified experimentally by means of radio wave by Heinrich Hertz in the 1880s. In the same decade, X-rays were discovered by Wilhelm Rontgen. And the first ac motor was developed by Nikola Tesla in 1887. It was considered a major advance over its predecessor, the dc motor.
In 1897, Joseph Thomson identified and quantified the fundamental carrier of electric charge properties, known as electron. This would become the bridge between classical and modern understanding of electromagnetism, where the advances in the magnetic and electricity understanding can be put to practical use. In the modern era, electromagnetism play an important role in the design of operation of every conceivable electronic device, including the diode, transistor, integrated circuit, laser, display screen, bar-code reader, cell phone, and many more applications in the area of communication systems and so on. It has become integral parts of today’s societal infrastructure and continued to evolve further. All the luxury that we enjoy in our modern world, we have these curious, pioneering and great men of history to thank for.