National Inventors Day

Our industry boasts at least five of the top ten most influential electrical inventions of all time

The lightbulb. The discovery of alternating current. The invention of the transistor. The electric motor. In celebration of National Inventors Day, we offer a look back at three of the most impactful creations and breakthroughs in history (in no particular order, except perhaps the first).

1.”Discovery”, cultivation and harnessing of electricity

Ben Franklin is often credited with “discovering” electricity, and you wouldn’t be wrong to say that. However, knowledge of its presence dates back to Antiquity, if not before. Greek philosophers and researchers noted electric shock emitting from eels, and although they couldn’t identify what exactly it was, they were also aware that static electricity could be created.

After centuries of mystery, the 1600s saw an uptick in electricity’s experimentation and research. It was Franklin who brought in a better understanding of the phenomena surrounding electricity with his famous kite and key in 1752.

2. Direct and alternating current

This newsletter wouldn’t have a name without either of these crucial discoveries, and the inventions that ensued. Perhaps most famous is the beef that arose from the two competing technologies; associated with names like Westinghouse, Edison, and Tesla. Officially, direct current was first produced artificially by Alessandro Volta in the early 1800s. But it would take further study by the likes of André-Marie Ampère and Hippolyte Pixii to postulate that electrical current moved in one direction between poles. Edison gets some highly disputed credit for harnessing and monetizing DC via the lightbulb, which he first demonstrated in Menlo Park, California in 1879.

Merely nine years later, Nikola Tesla discovered alternating current, or AC, which would prove revolutionary for the way electricity was generated and utilized. Primarily, AC proved to be safer and more efficient (over a long distance) than direct current. “Alternating current enabled the mass electrification of many nations around the world and can be seen as the most important prerequisite to other inventions mentioned on this list,” says Christopher McFadden of the blog Interesting Engineering, who we have to thank for an earlier iteration of this list. AC paved the way for other crucial inventions like transistors, transformers, and…

3. The electric motor

Need we say any more? The conception of the industrial electric motor steamrolled (pun intended) a plethora of previously steam- or coal-driven industries when it came on the scene in the 1800s over a series of phases. Franklin and others had previously experimented with electrostatic technology, but Michael Farraday often gets credit for the most commercially viable device, which he unveiled in 1831. The British scientist discovered and investigated induction law in terms of electric current generation in a varying magnetic field. However, Anyos Jedlik, a Hungarian physicist, is considered by many the “unsung father” of both the dynamo and the “elmo”. Jedlik invented the first commutated rotary electromechanical machine, using electromagnets, in 1828. He also invented the commutator. In 1828 Jedlik demonstrated the first device to contain the three main components of practical DC motors: the stator, rotor, and commutator.

In order to understand the importance of these inventions and discoveries, look no further than some of the biggest names in corporations today. The aforementioned people have their stamp on General Electric, TECO-Westinghouse, and most recently, electric car behemoth Tesla.

The day was created back in 1973.

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