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“Let there be Light”! Of course, this well-known Biblical quotation pertains to the creating of the sun and moon or the “Greater Luminary" and the “Lesser Luminary", so to speak. And, there was and is light!  During the daytime there is plenty of light. In mankind's estimation, it is said that the sun as a light source is equal to 2.5 billionAt the turn of the century, street lamps became more prevalent... billion billion foot-candles! That should be enough for daylight, when it isn’t an “overcast” day. But, evidently, as beautiful and romantic as the moonlight may be, it appears that the record shows man was not satisfied with it. Otherwise, when dusk comes and then the darknessWe hope you enjoy our discussions of 19th Century wonders..., we would all give up and retire! And perhaps that would not be a bad idea, for then most of us would get at least twelve or more hours of sleep a night.

However, man is a curious fellow and he has an insatiable desire to “take in” all that he can in a day’s time, stretching it to the limit. So, man’s world, for the most part, revolves around proper lighting and the ability to see. He sees and is able to have pleasure and he sees and he is able to work...and he wants to be able to do his work or play at his convenience. Thus, man found the need to invent additional sources of light.

No doubt man’s earliest sources of light were flaming torches and campfires. These were inefficient and gave off much smoke and pollution. Then he invented lamps which were simply wicks dipped in oil. The oil burned and gave off a somewhat better light. Candles were widely used during the Middle Ages. And, next in line were the gaslights. When they were first introduced, the flame alone provided the light. Then gas mantles were invented which provided materials that glowed brilliantly when heated by the gas flame. At the same time, lamps were developed that burned kerosene or whale oil. All of these sources worked, but added pollution to our air and could start fires. So, the inventing continued.

William Gilbert (1540-1603) an English physician, made one of the first important discoveries about static electricity. Gilbert told of the attraction of amber differs from that of magnetic loadstones. Amber, when rubbed with a cloth, attracts only light objects. He also found that other substances such as sulfur, glass, and resin, behave like amber. Our word for electricity comes from elektron, the Greek word for amber.

In 1646, Sir Thomas Browne, also and English physician, used the word electricity for the first time.

In 1733, Charles Du Fay of France thought there were two kinds of electricity. One he named vitreous, meaning (as on glass) and the other resinous meaning (as on amber). He learned that all objects charged with vitreous electricity repel each other but attract all objects charged with resinous electricity.

A man named Benjamin Franklin was given credit for showing the connection between lightning and natural electricity. He made a silk kite and fastened a piece of wire near its top. Then he attached a long string to the kite and tied an iron key to the free end of the string. In 1752, Franklin sent the kite up in a heavy thunderstorm, and as a thundercloud came near the kite, Franklin saw the loose ends of the string stiffen. He put his hand near the key and instantly he felt a shock as a spark traveled from the key to his finger. Rain was falling heavily and the wet kite carried such a large charge of electricity that some of it charged a battery in a container called a Leyden jar. So, batteries change chemical energy to electricity. It sounds simple enough, but it was a very dangerous experiment yet it led to another invention of his.

Also in l752, Franklin built the first lightning rod. It is the principal behind the device that protects homes and other buildings from damage by lightning. The discovery of electricity is what lead to the artificial lighting or electric light that we depend on so much today.

Charles Augustin de Coulomb in l785 worked out the laws of attraction and repulsion between electrically charged bodies.

In l786, Luigi Galvani, and anatomy professor in Italy experimented with current electricity, but did not quite get it right. He fastened the legs of a freshly killed frog to a copper hook, and hung the hook over an iron railing. The frog’s legs twitched violently whenever they touched the iron. He concluded wrongly that the frog’s legs contained electricity that was released when the legs touched metal.

In l800, Alesandro Volta, and Italian physics professor, discovered further that the chemical action of moisture and two different metals, such as copper and iron in Galvani’s experiments produced the electricity. Volta built the first battery.

Hans Christian Oersted, a Danish scientist, discovered electromagnetism in l820. He learned that a current flowing through a wire would move a compass needle. (This showed that an electric current has a magnetic effect).

Also in l820, the French physicist Andre Marie Ampere measured the magnetic effect of an electric current. He learned that two wires that are carrying current attract and repel each other just as magnets do. By l822, Ampere had worked out the laws that formed the basis for the science of current electricity.

In l826, Georg Simon Ohm, a German schoolteacher, formulated the law of electrical resistance that bears his name. Can you see the origin of our words Volts, Amps, and Ohms here?

A German physicist, Thomas Johann Seebeck, in l826 too, discovered thermo-electricity, the principle that heat can produce electricity.

Next, in 1831, and English physicist , Michael Faraday found that a moving magnet would induce an electrical current in a coil of wire. An American, Joseph Henry, also discovered this principle---thus, all-electric generators and transformers work by means of these principles.

In the l860’s, James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish physicist, worked out the exact mathematical equations for the laws of electricity and magnetism. He also predicted that electromagnetic waves, or radio waves, that move at the speed of light could be produced.

Heinrich Rudolph Hertz, a German physicist, produced such waves in the late l880’s and later showed that they move at the speed of light.

* The English physicist Joseph John Thomson discovered in l897 that all atoms contain particles of electricity. All these particles are exactly alike, no matter what kind of atoms they come from. We know these particles today as electrons. His discovery helped make possible the electronic age in which we live.

* In the l950’s, American and British scientists harnessed the power of atomic energy to generate electricity.

We bet you had not known all of those facts!

The first electric lights were arc lights, and a flaming arc between two carbon rods produced the light. The so-called incandescent lamp has a filament of carbon, tantalum and tungsten have been used for these filaments. Some modern lights depend upon the passage of electricity through a gas. A mercury lamp gives off light when an electric current is passed through a mercury vapor. A lamp like this also gives off ultraviolet rays. Florescent lights too, depend on mercury vapor. They give off light when the ultraviolet rays resulting from the passage of electricity through a mercury vapor strike certain materials called phosphors. These substances in turn, give off visible light!

Thus, we now know how electric lighting was invented, and that is through much curiosity and perseverance of dedicated men. And the apparatus used to house the electricity such as the lamp, of which there are thousands of beautiful designs and more elegantly, the chandelier has become of great interest in cultural decor.

When we think about all that we can do with the help of good lighting and all that we would not be able to do, we can be overwhelmingly grateful we live in a world in which we can enjoy all of the other inventions man has produced at any time of the day or night. So the next time you flick that switch, you can smile and say “LET THERE BE LIGHT!”

 

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