While doing research recently for an upcoming article I found some interesting history about the modern age we live in. When you have grown up with something its easy to take it for granted without thinking. So to me, a lot of this information is cause for reflection. In the US electricity is widely available. Myriads of appliances, tools and entertainment all run automatically based on electricity. Electricity and the electric motor have defined an age that was the foundation of the electronics and information age that we are currently in. The disk drive motor is the most extraordinary device of its kind considering the performance required and the price. So here is a short history of the electric motor and power industry.
Michael Faraday’s first demonstration in 1821of the principles of electromagnetism showed how electric power could be converted into mechanical power. And oddly, the opposite effect, converting mechanical power into electricity, would become the major class of machines based on Faraday’s principles. His first demonstration of a disk motor was ten years later. The motor was not efficient or powerful enough to do anything significant and a number of other people made improvements that lead to an efficient DC machine.
According to an article on Wikipedia, Anyos Jedlik in Hungary in 1828 created an electric motor powerful enough to propel a vehicle. Think about that for a minute. The electric car might have gotten started in 1828 if Jedlik had been more well known.
Faraday’s first demonstration of the electric motor was in 1831-32. His work in defining the basic principles of electromagnetism formed the basis for all electric motor technology to come. Many people contributed to the refinements that followed, Henry, Oersted, Lenz, Gauss. Electric motors by the late 1800’s were efficient enough to replace steam engines with the added benefit of needing no steam source to operate.
But, everything was DC powered. Many earlier attempts to commercialize the electric motor failed because the only source of power at the time was battery. From what I have found so far, it seems that the major application of the electric motor was the dynamo, a dc generating machine that was used to power the early electric lights in centralized areas. Many fairs and expositions had electric light installations as part of the demonstration of the new technology. What an incredible marketing campaign.
In 1871Thomas Edison had 121 Edison Power stations operating in the US providing DC electricity to homes and businesses and selling mass produced electric light bulbs. But DC power had a range of only about 1.5 miles of distance before line losses made the system impractical. So the benefits of lighting and motors were limited to densely populated areas in the cities.
In 1888 Nikola Tesla filed the first patents for AC motor and power distribution technology. And the rest, as they say is History. Power distribution without distance limitations. Motors that could operate efficiently and needed no brushes or commutator. The Second Industrial Revolution begins.
The electric power utility as a business is a relatively recent occurrance. Southern California Edison still carries the name. The entire electric motor industry, $8 Billion in the US, has only been around since the late 1800’s. And the electric car, which was in widespread use around the turn of the century, appears to be on the horizon again to invigorate the American auto industry.
The General Electric company (GE) was formed in 1892 by merger of the Edison Electric company and the Thompson-Houston Company, and is still in business as the 6th largest companies in the US. Tesla worked for George Westinghouse whose Westinghouse Corporation is still around.
Not every idea is world changing. Some that have shaped our world. Innovation and hard work goes a long way.
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