How Did Electric Power Impact Industry?

The first experiments involving electricity date back to around 1650.
••• electricity image by Mirek Hejnicki from

Electricity hasn't impacted industry over the years; in a large way it has helped to create the idea of industry. Although steam power helped to spur an Industrial Revolution before the development of electricity, electricity's advent helped to usher in industrial productivity on scales never before seen. Entire industries have been created to generate electricity for public use or transmit data through electrical signals. The history of electricity is in a large sense the history of modern society.

Discovery of Electricity

The very beginnings of the search for electricity can be traced back to the mid-17th century German scientist Otto van Guericke who performed experiments focused on the generation of electricity. Although there are some records of Guericke's work, more research exists from British scientist Stephen Gray, who began experimenting with generating electricity in 1729. In the public's mind electricity seemed an otherworldly phenomenon until Benjamin Franklin's 1752 experiments proved that electricity was a naturally occurring force.

Early Innovations

Early developments in electric power technology helped industries to harness the power of electricity and transport it from place to place. In the early 1800s, the work of Nikola Tesla led to the development of alternating-current (AC) and direct-current (DC) technologies, including batteries and cross-country power transfer. The experiments of Georg Simon Ohm led to his 1927 discovery of Ohm's Law, which measures electrical current and opened the door for increased complexity in electrical circuits.

Widespread Use

The widespread implementation of electricity for industrial use began as the 19th century drew to a close. Thomas Alva Edison began experimenting with the various uses of electric power in the 1870s; by 1882, New York City started installing electric streetlamps based on his research with electric lighting. Electric power began displacing steam power as the major power resource for industries during the Second Industrial Revolution, a period starting around 1860.

Edison and many other innovators, including Guglielmo Marconi and Heinrich Hertz, helped to discover electricity's capacity to transmit information and sound. Their work led to the creation of many media industries, including telecommunications and the radio industry.

Present Day

Without electric power there would likely be no modern industry as we know it. In 2009, the total amount of electricity generated in the world was 20,100 terrawatt-hours (TWh), enough for every person on Earth to keep a pot of water boiling for one-third of each day throughout the year. Use of electric power by industry grows exponentially; between 1999 and 2009, world electricity production grew by 33 percent. Current explorations of electric power are focused on developing sources of power that produce cleaner, less polluting energy than that produced by the burning of coal and the mining of natural resources.

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