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Who Discovered Electricity?

Benjamin Franklin suggested the original design for the penny.
Benjamin Franklin used a kite and a key to prove that lightning was caused by electricity.
A Faraday cage with bolt of electricity.
Benjamin Franklin sought to prove that lightning was caused by electricity.
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  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2014
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Although it is possible to trace the history of the harnessing of electrical power and identify the people responsible for various breakthroughs along the way, it is difficult to put a name to the person who first discovered electricity. Very early in human history, people would have witnessed lightning, an obvious natural manifestation, but would have been unable to explain it. The known history of electricity goes back to at least 620-550 BCE, when, in ancient Greece, it was found that rubbing fur on amber caused an attraction between the two. This discovery is credited to the philosopher Thales of Miletus. It was to be many centuries before anyone was able to connect this phenomenon with lightning, and a century more before electrical currents were put to practical use.

Early Experiments

By the 17th century, many electricity-related discoveries had been made, such as the invention of an early electrostatic generator, the differentiation between positive and negative charges, and the classification of materials as conductors or insulators. In the year 1600, English physician William Gilbert first made the connection between the attraction of oppositely charged objects and magnetism. He coined the term electric, from the Greek elektron — meaning amber — to identify the force that certain substances exert when rubbed against each other.

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Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin is perhaps the name most associated with electricity. In 1750, he sought to prove that lightning was caused by electricity by describing an experiment in which an electrical conductor would be used to extract power from a thundercloud. It seems that before he was able to carry this out, a French experimenter named Thomas-Francois Dalibard, who had read Fraklin’s writings on the subject, successfully obtained an electrical discharge from a thundercloud using a 40 foot (12.2 meter) metal pole in May 1752. Franklin is credited with carrying out a similar experiment in June of that year, in which he flew a kite with a metal key attached to it into a suitable cloud. The precise historical details are unclear, but he may have then retrieved the key and discharged electricity from it.

While it is not clear exactly when, how, or even if, Franklin actually carried out his lightning experiment, he is rightly credited with the idea behind it. The relationship between lighting and electricity having been confirmed, he went on to invent the lightning rod, a metal pole that safely conducts electricity away from a building during a thunderstorm. Franklin observed and documented other electrical phenomena, but it was left to others to determine the true nature of electricity and harness its power.

Galvani, Volta and the Invention of the Battery

The Italian scientists Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta both played a role in the development of the first battery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1780, Galvani discovered what he called “animal electricity” when he found that a frog’s leg would contract if connected to two different metals. Volta later demonstrated that the “animal” part was unnecessary, and that pairs of different metals, such as zinc and copper, could produce a current if immersed in an electrolyte, such as salt water. This device is known as a galvanic cell.

Volta went on to create a “voltaic pile” consisting of alternate layers of copper and zinc separated by paper soaked in salt water. This generated a larger current and is credited as the first battery. These devices work because zinc has a greater tendency to lose electrons than the copper, so that when they are connected by an electrolyte, electrons will flow from one to the other, forming a galvanic cell. A series of galvanic cells connected together, as in a voltaic pile, makes up a battery.

It has been theorized that an artifact discovered in Iraq, and thought to date from sometime between 224 and 640 CE, might have been a type of battery. It consisted of small terracotta pot containing a copper tube surrounding an iron rod. If filled with an electrolyte, such as grape juice, it can produce an electric current. Most scientists, however, think that the pots were used for storing scrolls and that their ability to generate a current is purely coincidental.

Michael Faraday

In 1831, the English scientist Michael Faraday discovered that an electrical current could be induced in a copper wire by a moving magnetic field. This led to two crucial inventions: the dynamo and the electric motor. A dynamo generates an electrical current by the relative motion of coils of copper wire and magnets and is the primary method employed today to generate electricity for domestic and industrial use. The electric motor exploits the same principle: a current flowing in a magnetic field produces movement.

Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla

Following the invention in 1860 of the electric light bulb by the British physicist Joseph Swan, the American inventor Thomas Edison had the idea, in the late 1800s, of transmitting electricity via cables to every home to provide lighting. Edison planned to use the direct current (DC) produced by the generators available at the time. This, however, would have meant placing generators at frequent intervals, as a lot of power was lost through the resistance of the cables.

Nicola Tesla, a Serbian-born engineer and inventor who worked with Edison for a time, developed a new kind of generator that produced a current that switched direction many times a second, known as alternating current (AC). This had the advantage that the voltage and current could be varied using a transformer. Power loss could be minimized by transmitting the electricity at low current and high voltage, then reducing the voltage and increasing the current for domestic use. Despite fierce opposition from Edison, AC was adopted, and this is the kind of current that is used in homes today.

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Discuss this Article

anon956601
Post 213

How did humans ever get the original idea to even apply electricity or what was the purpose of electricity? Higher intelligence?

anon939995
Post 211

Who is Tesla?

anon938039
Post 210

Who came up with the term electricity?

anon340658
Post 209

I am wondering who was the first one who actually invented electricity. From all the comments I have been reading I do not understand.

anon333619
Post 207

In reply to another person's comment, Benjamin Franklin didn't "invent" electricity. But he did find that lightning is a source of electricity, using the kite thingy

anon298909
Post 197

I know that Volta discovered the chemical reactions between cathodes and anodes but with galvani, I have no idea.

anon274456
Post 193

Electromagnetism was discovered due to the learning of Tesla so he should have got more credit than Benjamin did.

anon273298
Post 192

How did Franklin discover the lightning?

anon263400
Post 188

Ben Franklin did not discover electricity. He only discovered the link between electricity and lightning. And Tesla did not invent electricity. You can't invent electricity. It existed before Tesla, and you can't invent something that existed before you.

As for the discovery of electricity, the earliest mention of electricity was from Egyptian text about 4750 years ago (2750 BC). They talked about an electric fish (Electric Eel).

anon262164
Post 187

Tesla is definitely under-appreciated. He invented the beginnings of radio, x-ray tech, and even computers. He created the first AC dynamo along with the first AC motor. He took the first x-ray of Samuel Clemens in his laboratory before anyone even knew what an x-ray was.

Marconi used several of his patents to help send his message across the Atlantic Ocean. Tesla wasn't the first to make a light bulb, that was Edison, but Tesla's later design is the one in use today, the high efficient new ones. Yes he probably could have been considered mentally insane, but who cares after he gave us all that he did.

anon249614
Post 177

An excellent summary of the history of electricity is the first four chapters of Henry Schlesinger's 2010 book "The Battery."

anon246315
Post 174

Like so many things that are discovered or invented, not "one" person is responsible for the whole thing. Most likely it is a group effort, with people building on the work of those before them, and therefore no one can be credited or singled out because if one person was missing in the chain, the entire thing would collapse. I think the following quote from Newton is applicable here. "If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."

anon245706
Post 173

Wow, according to the comments here, not only did Tesla single-handedly invent electricity, A/C, and the radio, he also lived before Franklin and after Edison!

Get a clue folks. He didn't work in a vacuum. He built on other people's work and others built on his. He was very intelligent, he had several important advances, but his transmission of free electricity was mostly hype, and by the end of his life, he was most likely certifiably insane.

anon234995
Post 170

I think Tesla was a very smart man. All the things he invented and improved are amazing. I wish Edison hadn't spent so much time and energy shutting Tesla out. We use so many of Tesla's inventions today. It's sad that because of pride someone we all thought was great (Edison) someone who truly was (Tesla) fell through the cracks and is so unknown.

anon232107
Post 169

People say electricity was not made ? - any clue?

anon229397
Post 168

I'd like to think that the power of electricity would have been known across the timeline of human history. Ever since the first cave man got shocked by lightning and lived to tell about it. The understanding of, manipulation of, and generation of the force of electricity lies with Nikola Tesla. Any doubters need only do the research.

anon226739
Post 167

There are some jokers on here. I accept what so many say about the greatness of Tesla, but to say that he made the Industrial Revolution possible must be a wind-up. The fact that he was born in the middle of it would be a hint.

The Industrial Revolution was kick-started by steam, not electricity, so if you must have a 'father' you could try George Stephenson, whose inventions drove the Industrial Revolution before electricity was utilised at all.

Getting back to electricity, Volta and Faraday's battery and motor were designed before Tesla was born. Perhaps you will now claim Tesla invented the time machine.

anon226416
Post 166

Faraday was the Steve Jobs of 19th century. He was the one who applied electricity for practical purposes. Edison was a phony.

anon226101
Post 165

Nikola Tesla discovered the magnetic field.

anon226046
Post 164

William Gilbert did not discover electricity, he researched the magnetic iron ore. Not electricity. Tesla is the one to thank when it comes to who discovered it.

anon226039
Post 163

Tesla was the first person to discover and manipulate electricity. So I think he should be mentioned here instead of Thomas Edison who merely took praise for some of Tesla's inventions. Did this help you understand @anon6672? And Benjamin Franklin did not discover electricity; he only defined it after Tesla.

anon223178
Post 162

Do you people pay attention in school? Nikola Tesla is the father of the electricity we use today!

He even said back then that Einstein's formula was wrong, but no one believed him until today when it is actually proved that it is wrong. I seriously cannot believe some people. That is like not knowing who Christopher Columbus was!

anon200999
Post 159

who discovered Magnetic fields?

anon199534
Post 158

Some of these questions will remain unanswered for all eternity.

anon190630
Post 156

what about Faraday?

anon140534
Post 139

who discovered what magnets' effects were? and who found out about magnets?

anon140264
Post 138

Nicklos Tesla deserves a nobel price and due recognition should be given to him.

anon135878
Post 134

wow, we can't even figure out who actually discovered electricity first.

anon134780
Post 133

The electricity that we use today was the invention of a genius who was forgotten in the tides of time. He is Nikola Tesla, the man responsible for our present world. He invented alternating current(AC) which replaced Edison's Direct Current(DC). He was a genius-- a man who walked and thought decades ahead of his time.

Not only did he discover AC, but also did many other exceptional things. He invented the AC motor which made the Industrial revolution possible. It is his model we still use.

He also invented the remote control system. He invented the Tesla coil, which could transmit ac power wireless. Also, he is the inventor of the radio, not Marconi. Marconi used Tesla's drawings to make the radio transmission possible. The patent holder of radio is Tesla, not Marconi.

I would say he was the man who changed our life.

anon129870
Post 132

The actual power systems we use today were developed by Nikola Tesla. His first power plant is still able to be viewed on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Prior to Edison's invention of the incandescent light, Tesla developed and was using fluorescent lights in his shop.

anon127614
Post 130

Edison didn't invent the light bulb. Davy Humphry did in 1806. It had been evolved by many Europeans and in 1852 the first 'modern' light bulb was invented. Edison bought his patent in the 1870s from other inventors and experimented with different filaments.

Quite ironic as this pages is about the misconception of who first harnessed electricity.

anon102912
Post 120

It was volta who first demonstrated how to generate electricity that was of any use using chemical reactions but the prize goes to Michael Faraday when he invented the dynamo in 1831. Sir William Armstrong was the first to use hydro-electricity to power electric lights at his home in the northeast of England, and the electric lights had just been invented by Sir Joseph Swan.

anon95295
Post 118

I am just wondering because some says that thales of miletus is the earliest researcher of electricity. Does this mean that he is the one who discovered electricity?

anon95047
Post 117

If you guys never knew, Nikola Tesla is the one who discovered electricity. When he passed away, Thomas Edison took over the idea that he's the one who invented electricity. So for all the people who think Edison discovered electricity, you're so wrong! Look it up that Nikola Tesla invented electricity.

anon93666
Post 116

I'm still confused about the discovery of electricity, but I'm pretty much sure about the fact that it was created by Allah at the time wen he created the universe.

anon93641
Post 115

If the key was struck struck by lightning, and that is the story, electricity would have traveled down the string and given Ben a shock. But it would depend on the diameter of the string, and how wet the string was, in order to determine how much electricity went down the line. If the string was mostly dry still, he would have felt very little shock. I do not consider this a tall tale. It is very possible.

anon92777
Post 114

The Baghdad Battery pre-dates Franklin by about 2000 years.

anon92364
Post 113

What were Volta's contributions to electricity?

anon89974
Post 111

Well some of these facts are kind of wrong.

Look, if Benjamin Franklin just stuck his kite out he'd probably just get electric shock.

The real thing is that he tied a copper key to the end to discover electricity.

anon89346
Post 109

I also find it very interesting how no one acknowledges all of Nikola Tesla's work relating to electricity. He created the more advanced electricity which we use today. Edison created the old school electricity but he couldn't figure out how to improve his creation. therefore it should be Tesla who gets the credit.

anon82799
Post 105

Ben Franklin didn't just stick his kite out in a thunderstorm, around 3/4 down the string. They tied a copper key to find out that lightning is electricity.

anon79024
Post 100

Wow I've never read blog comments to a factual article about science. Usually it's opinions about someone else's opinion, but reading all these comments that range from insane to bizarre to ignorant was really interesting. Far more interesting than the article itself.

Perhaps this board is read mostly by very young students, as lots of comments referred to homework.

Anyway, I've got a couple things to say:

1) 'einstein and his bunch' did not come up with the scientific method. That was Roger Bacon.

2) Franklin probably never flew a kite in a storm, just as George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree. However, that does not mean that Franklin wasn't a major influence in science, and more importantly, American history. The reason he's on the $100 bill is because of his contributions to politics, not science.

anon78846
Post 99

i think the ancient egyptians had electricity because of hieroglyphics

anon76476
Post 98

anon36122: it was Joseph Swan, who received a British patent for his light bulb in 1878. In 1883 he and Edison joined up to form the Edison & Swan United Electric Light Company.

anon75765
Post 97

the observation by anon16100 is either the most prescient one in this list or it's apocryphal.

i suspect the latter; i reckon it's far more likely the Egyptians discovered gold plate, made by bashing it with a stick until it becomes really really thin, whereupon it can be inlaid as the Indians had been doing thousands of years before them.

Egypt and Greece get far too much kudos in European schoolbooks - most of their ideas were imported from the East - just as USA scientists and inventors get far too much kudos in USA schoolbooks - most of their ideas were imported from their East, in Europe.

That's the thing about history - it's all a pack of lies.

anon72727
Post 96

can you put on here what can be uses for the electricity?

anon70093
Post 95

who is the father of classical electricity?

yeah, I just want to know.

anon70083
Post 94

this helps me with homelearning

anon70006
Post 92

Really good. it helps me with my homework.

anon69770
Post 90

who discovered current electricity?

anon69306
Post 89

how did the invention of the battery help the american people?

anon68786
Post 87

is this the truth that franklin was the one who discovered electricity?

anon67209
Post 84

I pretty much agree with anon56358.

anon67208
Post 83

where did volta invent his battery?

anon65812
Post 82

We're talking about electricity here- why the heck do people need to bring up religion! Are you serious? My goodness.

anon64565
Post 79

Thanks for creating this, it's helped a lot.

anon64362
Post 78

I pretty much agree with anon56358...

anon63937
Post 77

i would like to say thank you to whoever created this webpage.It has been a great help with my science homework on electricity.:)

anon63580
Post 76

William Gilbert discovered electricity, not Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla invented things. not discovered electricity. Again, William Gilbert discovered it and named it. He did this in the 1600s. It wasn't Nikola Tesla.

anon60542
Post 73

i don't get it. did benjamin franklin die after he discovered something with the kite?

anon59892
Post 72

Look its really simple - the discovery of stored electricity (ancient sumerians and egyptians who used fruit acids, cooper and zinc plates to create batteries and yes the evidence to support this is well documented) is not the same thing as the discovery of an improved storage mechanism and its parts (Volta), or a practical mechanism to transmit or use electricity over long distance(AC current -Tesla).

Or the discovery of the inherent nature of electrical force and effect in the central nervous system and resistance (Galvani).

Neither should we confuse the ground breaking work of Franklin and his legendary kite flying episodes in storms which had he succeeded would have probably resulted in him being fried. He was a principal factor in the re-discovery that electrical energy is a naturally occurring phenomenon.

In short history is full of names and issues around who was first to do what.

By the way the Greek words and text for electricity are not indicative of what we refer to today as such but were meant in a more generic sense.

anon59866
Post 71

Thanks. this helps me do my work.

anon58360
Post 70

To understand correctly the question who 'discovered' electricity you must understand the scientific method which was created (read written) after franklin (by einstein and his gang). If you read the article it says Franklin did an 'experiment' to find out what lightning was and 'discovered' electricity.

Modern science recognizes the scientific method which franklin followed though he didn't know he was following it. It's very close to Socrates' 'Logic' (which was believed for milennia) but differed in the fact that there was experimentation and data backing up the original thesis.

This would be the reason modern science says Franklin "discovered" electricity.

anon56426
Post 68

research bahgdad battery, another twist.

anon56359
Post 67

why do the ancient greeks show up so much? and they always make us delay a couple years in science. has anyone noticed this?

anon56358
Post 66

Ben didn't "discover" or "invent" electricity. It has been there throughout time, since God created the earth.

The ancient people before the flood of Noah probably had it. They were really smart, but until a couple hundred centuries ago, yeah, you get it.

But now our "Smart" scientists know how to use it. They also came up with the big bang. Did you ever notice how they had the little nothing a few light years across then they kept changing it until it was "invisible"?

Science doesn't change if it is true.

anon55828
Post 64

what is the abbreviation of KVRA?

anon54582
Post 63

Very nice.

anon54581
Post 62

so good. now i know who discovered electricity. thank you!

anon53898
Post 61

Nikola Tesla was the one.

anon52349
Post 60

thanks for the help GEEKS!

anon52142
Post 58

This site seems to not exactly help people. you say that it was discovered by some greek guy and franklin had no real significance.

anon51811
Post 57

Very good in my thoughts.

anon49121
Post 54

europeans never invented anything. they just claimed other more advanced civilizations technology as their own.

anon48809
Post 53

i know now who discovered electricity, but who discovered electricity from fruit?

anon44435
Post 48

of course no one invented electricity. it was spoken into existence by God during Creation.

so it is only these folks who discovered it.

anon44100
Post 45

who discovered electrical current?

anon42998
Post 44

thanks for the answer but i cannot actually understand and know who really discovered electricity.

anon42442
Post 43

who "discovered electricity." Thanks for the info but i still don't understand who invented electricity.

anon41934
Post 41

if franklin did not discover electricity then who did it actually?

anon37578
Post 38

has anyone mentioned the 'baghdad battery'?

anon37331
Post 37

@7 and @10, Tesla was instrumental in the AC vs DC (Edison) argument. One of his concepts was to "ship" AC current via towers and air. Too many people scared of getting between the two receptors and getting fried. Copper one out, as did AC in the US.

He's as close to this discussion as any others mentioned.

anon36318
Post 36

want to say a big thank u to you out there for this info.Discovery as it sounds, i believe it franklin who discovered electricity, only he never processed it to something useful to mankind, which Alessandro Volta, Michael Faraday,Thomas elva edison and others did to which they all deserve celebration as this. Imagine a world without electricity, though if they don't some will still make it happen, for it was designed to happen as Job's prophecy says, "Man will put an end to darkness" Job 28. all thanks to the living God who in his awesome power made us powerful, peace out

anon36122
Post 35

Thomas Edison didn't invent the light bulb...it was a British inventor "Joseph something", he invented the bulb 10 months before Edison

anon36056
Post 34

I'm doing a report and i need to know who discovered electricity..... I always thought it was ben franklin?

anon33490
Post 32

how and when did electricity start?

anon31329
Post 30

So there were different people who discovered different types of electricity, right?

benson
Post 29

This is extremely useful! Thanks for the info. I will read it all over again and again.

anon28770
Post 27

what did Galvani, Volta and Gilbert discover with electricity?

anon28045
Post 26

What did franklin actually find out?

anon22955
Post 24

We were sitting around the table talking about how people discovered things and the names that were attributed to the discoveries. It was then we all thought that with the amazing discovery of electricity, no name came to mind. So while we were racking our brains my son thought we should consult Google. We would like to thank whoever put this information on this site for putting us out of our agony.

anon19592
Post 22

I think Ben still discovered electricity because lots of people have been hit by lighting and survived so i still think he did.

anon19069
Post 21

who discovered electrical current?

anon16956
Post 20

Dude.... I always thought that ben was so great because he "discovered" electricity. What a faker. He shouldn't even have his face on the US $100 note. Voltas or some of those other guys should be on that note.

anon16100
Post 18

Hmm i think the Egyptians electroplated gold in the time of the great pyramids so how is it that this history is forgotten? They must have had an advanced knowledge not just of electricity but chemistry.

anon9976
Post 16

If Benjamin Franklin didn't invent electricity even though it is impossible, how come he gets all the credit, and does this mean that Benjamin Franklin did not go out in the lightning and get shocked? Thanks for all the information.

anon6946
Post 12

Thanks, guys! The info was extremely useful to me

anon6719
Post 11

The last paragraph talks about when electricity became viable for use in technology. It mentions the Farady dynamo and Edison light bulb. The reality is it was much later in the 19th century when Tesla’s polyphase generators appeared that electricity became viable for technology. Telsa’s AC system eventually won out over Edison's DC system and created the basis for modern viable practical applications of electricity as we know it today. I always find it amusing how much credit Edison gets for Tesla’s work…

anon6672
Post 10

lol. Why would Tesla be mentioned here. This isn't an article regarding inventions to be used with electricity. this is a who discovered electricty.

anon6145
Post 9

what is the original lemon battery?

anon5964
Post 7

I am surprised no one mentions tesla in all this. The modern AC system was (all tesla NOT Edison). Tesla later sold his patents to westinghouse and holds 700 other patents including the patent for wireless or Radio which was taken away from marconi in 1943 in favor of tesla's earlier claims. Yet with all this I am continually amazed at how many electical engineers have never heard of him...

anon4545
Post 6

who discovered a battery made from fruit?

anon1513
Post 4

where did volta invent his battery?

anon378
Post 1

what did galvani and volta discover with electricity?

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