Man has been aware of the phenomenon of electricity for a long time. One need only think of lightning in the sky, electric eels or static electricity in wool. Some 600 years before Jesus Christ, Greek philosopher and scientist Thales of Miletus began the first experiments with electricity. He noted that a piece of amber rubbed on fur attracted feathers, straw and other small objects. Amber is a substance secreted by trees, and during Miletus’ era, it was used to make jewellery.

Where there is electricity, there is magnetism. Nearly 200 years ago in the region of Magnesia, Turkey, a mineral known as magnetite, a natural magnet, was discovered. It is in honour of this region that the phenomenon of attraction of these stones is designated by the word magnetism. The Chinese would use the properties of magnetite to invent the compass around the year 1000.

Man has been aware of the phenomenon of electricity for a long time. One need only think of lightning in the sky, electric eels or static electricity in wool. Some 600 years before Jesus Christ, Greek philosopher and scientist Thales of Miletus began the first experiments with electricity. He noted that a piece of amber rubbed on fur attracted feathers, straw and other small objects. Amber is a substance secreted by trees, and during Miletus’ era, it was used to make jewellery.

Where there is electricity, there is magnetism. Nearly 200 years ago in the region of Magnesia, Turkey, a mineral known as magnetite, a natural magnet, was discovered. It is in honour of this region that the phenomenon of attraction of these stones is designated by the word magnetism. The Chinese would use the properties of magnetite to invent the compass around the year 1000.


© 2010, Cité de l'Énergie. All Rights Reserved.

Mankind would have to wait some 2000 years after the observations of Thales of Miletus before others were to show interest in electricity. In 1600, William Gilbert, physician to Queen Elizabeth I of England, wrote a book entitled De Magnete (On Magnets). In his book, he compared the Earth to a giant magnet. He established a distinction between magnetic attraction and electrical attraction. He demonstrated that a magnet naturally attracts iron, while amber must be rubbed to attract light bodies. Gilbert was the first person to use the word electricity, which comes from the Greek word for amber: elektron.

Gilbert’s work prompted more research on electricity. In 1660, Otto Von Guericke, German inventor and politician, developed the first electrostatic generator. His mechanical device consisted of a sulphur globe pierced by an iron rod that could be rotated. Rubbing the globe with a cloth or hand produced electricity.

In the 18th century, electricity was studied by a few isolated scientists. Progress was slow. However, experiments conducted in public were increasingly popular. The most famous is undoubtedly that of Ameri Read More

Mankind would have to wait some 2000 years after the observations of Thales of Miletus before others were to show interest in electricity. In 1600, William Gilbert, physician to Queen Elizabeth I of England, wrote a book entitled De Magnete (On Magnets). In his book, he compared the Earth to a giant magnet. He established a distinction between magnetic attraction and electrical attraction. He demonstrated that a magnet naturally attracts iron, while amber must be rubbed to attract light bodies. Gilbert was the first person to use the word electricity, which comes from the Greek word for amber: elektron.

Gilbert’s work prompted more research on electricity. In 1660, Otto Von Guericke, German inventor and politician, developed the first electrostatic generator. His mechanical device consisted of a sulphur globe pierced by an iron rod that could be rotated. Rubbing the globe with a cloth or hand produced electricity.

In the 18th century, electricity was studied by a few isolated scientists. Progress was slow. However, experiments conducted in public were increasingly popular. The most famous is undoubtedly that of American writer and diplomat Benjamin Franklin. In 1752, in Philadelphia, he used a kite to prove the electrical charge in lightning. He was the first to identify the positive and negative charges of electricity. In 1729, another discovery by British textile dyer and astronomy enthusiast Stephen Gray demonstrated the existence of conductors and insulating materials.


© 2010, Cité de l'Énergie. All Rights Reserved.

In the early 19th century, an increasing number of scientists became interested in electricity. Publication of their research results and new experiments led to the development of theories and a better understanding of electrical phenomena. Each scientist’s contribution allowed others to make progress. In less than one hundred years, the sum of their work led to the production and distribution of electricity over short distances.

The invention of the Voltaic Pile in 1800 by Italian professor of physics Alessandro Volta marked the beginning of a series of important discoveries in electricity. Inspired by the work of fellow-countryman physician Luigi Galvani on the connection between electricity and the nervous system of the frog, Volta developed the first electric cell capable of producing direct current.

Volta built his aptly named Pile by creating a pile of alternating silver and zinc washers, each separated from the other by means of cloth soaked in salt water. At the time, Volta thought that electricity was produced by contact between the two metals rather than as a result of chemical reaction. His invention would remove t Read More

In the early 19th century, an increasing number of scientists became interested in electricity. Publication of their research results and new experiments led to the development of theories and a better understanding of electrical phenomena. Each scientist’s contribution allowed others to make progress. In less than one hundred years, the sum of their work led to the production and distribution of electricity over short distances.

The invention of the Voltaic Pile in 1800 by Italian professor of physics Alessandro Volta marked the beginning of a series of important discoveries in electricity. Inspired by the work of fellow-countryman physician Luigi Galvani on the connection between electricity and the nervous system of the frog, Volta developed the first electric cell capable of producing direct current.

Volta built his aptly named Pile by creating a pile of alternating silver and zinc washers, each separated from the other by means of cloth soaked in salt water. At the time, Volta thought that electricity was produced by contact between the two metals rather than as a result of chemical reaction. His invention would remove the study of electricity from the realm of curiosity and propel it directly into scientific laboratories.

In France, André-Marie Ampère, professor of chemistry and physics, also drew on work by another researcher, Christian Oersted. In1820, this Danish physicist discovered that an electric current produced a magnetic field. A few weeks after the announcement of Oersted’s results, Ampère succeeded in making a coil (solenoid) to create a magnetic field. He was the first to scientifically establish a link between electricity and magnetism.

Ampère’s work in turn inspired British physicist Michael Faraday. In 1831, he demonstrated that a magnet in movement near a metal wire produced an electric current in the wire. In the United States in 1828, unaware of Faraday’s research, another physicist named Joseph Henry designed an electromagnet that used the same principle, but in reverse. Both men proved that electricity could be produced at will by moving a magnet and its magnetic field within a coil of metal wire. A continuous displacement of free electrons, or electricity, in the wire was then observed.

The work of Faraday and Henry inspired other scientists and accelerated discoveries. In 1882, Croatian engineer Nikola Tesla perfected the alternator, a device capable, as its names indicates, of producing an electrical current that alternates constantly back and forth on a messenger wire. The same year, French chemist Lucien Gaulard presented a transformer capable of changing the voltage of alternating current. These two inventions greatly facilitated the large-scale production and transportation of electrical energy over long distances.

At the onset of the 1880s in the United States, inventor Thomas Edison and engineer George Westinghouse were in a fight to the finish in the production and transportation of electricity. Edison was an ardent champion of direct current, while Westinghouse preferred alternating current. The choice of alternating current for the universal exhibition in Chicago in 1893, and above all, the design of the Niagara Falls Powerhouse in 1895, confirmed the advantages of alternating current.

The contribution of Thomas Edison warrants praise, nonetheless, for his invention of the light bulb for indoor lighting in the home in 1879. Three years later, he activated the first power station in America. This power station, equipped with six generators, provided direct current to 85 buildings on Wall Street in New York.


© 2010, Cité de l'Énergie. All Rights Reserved.

Lighting

The invention of the Voltaic Pile by Volta served to harness electricity for several uses, including lighting. In 1813, chemist Humphrey Davy succeeded at producing an electric arc that gave off light. However, the two pencil-shaped carbon conductors that produced the electric arc burned very quickly, limiting the use of his invention on a larger scale.

Nearly 70 years would go by before electricity would become a reliable source of lighting accessible to the public. Indeed, in 1878 Russian engineer Pavel Jablochkoff offered a demonstration of his electric arc lamp in the streets of Paris, marking the veritable onset of lighting in city streets. One year later, Thomas Edison perfected the electric light bulb. Use of this incandescent light bulb spread rapidly to homes and businesses.

Motor

The first battery-operated motor was designed in 1834 by German-born Russian, Moritz Jacobi. Four years later, he installed his motor on a boat that sailed seven kilometres along the Neva River in Russia. Another inventor, Robert Davidson, born in Scotland, designed motors to drive presses in plants. In Read More

Lighting

The invention of the Voltaic Pile by Volta served to harness electricity for several uses, including lighting. In 1813, chemist Humphrey Davy succeeded at producing an electric arc that gave off light. However, the two pencil-shaped carbon conductors that produced the electric arc burned very quickly, limiting the use of his invention on a larger scale.

Nearly 70 years would go by before electricity would become a reliable source of lighting accessible to the public. Indeed, in 1878 Russian engineer Pavel Jablochkoff offered a demonstration of his electric arc lamp in the streets of Paris, marking the veritable onset of lighting in city streets. One year later, Thomas Edison perfected the electric light bulb. Use of this incandescent light bulb spread rapidly to homes and businesses.

Motor

The first battery-operated motor was designed in 1834 by German-born Russian, Moritz Jacobi. Four years later, he installed his motor on a boat that sailed seven kilometres along the Neva River in Russia. Another inventor, Robert Davidson, born in Scotland, designed motors to drive presses in plants. In 1837, he designed an electric locomotive. That same year in the United States, inventor Thomas Davenport managed to operate a printing press using an electric motor. During the same era, in France, mechanic Paul Froment produced electric motors to drive machines in industrial applications. Powered by simple batteries, the motors made by these inventors were far from efficient. In 1869, however, the invention of the dynamo, a machine capable of producing much more intense direct current, by Belgian electrician Zénobe Gramme, would serve to develop ever more powerful motors.

Communications

The idea of sending messages by means of electricity dated back to the 18th century and was even raised by Ampère. The very first electric telegraph experiments were conducted as early as 1774. But it was not until 1838 that American painter Samuel Morse patented his concept of electric telegraphy and invented the code that bears his name. During the same year, a first telegraph line was installed between London and Birmingham. Six years later, a line was inaugurated in the United States between Washington and Baltimore.

The transmission of coded text messages through electric wires was only the beginning. The introduction of the first telegraphs heightened scientists’ interest in finding a means to transmit the human voice over distances using electric wires. In 1854, in France, inventor Charles Bourseul published the results of his research in an article entitled Transmission électrique de la parole (electric transmission of speech). On February 14, 1876 Alexander Graham Bell filed his patent on the telephone. Three other individuals may also be considered the inventors of the telephone: the Italian, Antonio Meucci, and the Americans, Elisha Gray and Thomas Edison. The telephone was commercialized following the patenting by Bell and experienced great success.

Electromagnetic waves produced naturally were detected by German physicist Heinrich Hertz in 1887.The waves travelled without a physical medium and paved the way for wireless telecommunication. Hertz’s research resulted in several scientific discoveries that led to the birth of the radio. Thanks to the work of Russian physicist Alexander Popov, who developed the antenna, and the efforts of French physicist Édouard Branly, in radio guidance, Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi was able to transmit a message over a wireless telegraph across the Atlantic in 1901. Using waves, he linked Cornwall, England to Newfoundland in Canada. As is the case of the telephone, more than one individual has been recognized as the inventor of the radio. Some historians consider Nikola as the originator of the radio. Native Quebecer and inventor Reginald Fessenden, who completed a first transmission of music over radio waves in 1906, is also a candidate. The first regular radio shows were broadcast in England, Russia and the United States in 1920. Two years later, radio station CKAC in Montreal went on the air.

Appearance of the First Household Appliances

Research carried out by British physicist James Prescott Joule in the 1840s on the connection between heat and energy are at the origin of the first household appliances. Joule noted that the passage of an electric current in a conductor released a great deal of heat. Mastery of this phenomenon paved the way for new applications of electricity. By the end of the 19th century, new electrical appliances began making their appearance: stoves, irons, water heaters and radiators.


© 2010, Cité de l'Énergie. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

In all six modules, the objectives are related to skill levels of science, technology and history adapted to Cycle One in the public school system.

Skill levels include:

Finding answers and solutions to scientific and technological problems;
Building on personal scientific and technological knowledge;
Communicating in language used in science and technology.

Questioning social realities from a historical perspective;
Interpreting social realities using the historical method;
Building citizenship awareness through history.

Learning about the world of technology heightens student awareness of technology as an integral part of the world around us. The study of engineering concepts serves to provide the student with tools to design and create a technical prototype. By studying mechanisms from the standpoint of forces, movement and the transformation of energy, the student will understand how certain technology systems work. 

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