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Fathers of Electricity

Storage Battery, Electric Furnace, AC Transformer, Electric Turbine


Electricity at Work

The lightbulb's invention used electricity to bring indoor lighting to our homes.

Thomas Edison, already famous as "the Wizard of Menlo Park," established his factories and laboratories at West Orange, New Jersey, in 1887. The West Orange site produced a constant stream of inventions, some new and startling, others improvements on old devices.

The new profession of electrical engineering attracted great numbers of able men. Manufacturers of electrical machinery established research departments and employed inventors. The times had indeed changed since the day when Samuel Morse, as a student at Yale College, chose art instead of electricity as his calling, because electricity offered no means of livelihood.

Storage Battery

From Thomas Edison's plant in 1903 came a new type of the storage battery. The storage battery was used: in the propulsion of electric vehicles and boats, in the operation of block-signals, in the lighting of trains, and in the ignition and starting of gasoline engines. With the gas-driven automobile, the battery now allowed the starting of the engine without the previous used method of hand-cranking. Now the automobile could be started by people of all strengths, hand-cranking was hard work.

Electric Furnace

The dynamo brought into service not only light and power but heat; and the electric furnace in turn gave rise to several great metallurgical and chemical industries. Elihu Thomson's process of welding by means of the arc furnace found wide and varied applications.

The commercial production of aluminum is due to the electric furnace and dates from 1886. It was in that year that H. Y. Castner of New York and C. M. Hall of Pittsburgh both invented the methods of making aluminum, a new metal that was malleable and ductile, exceedingly light, and capable of a thousand uses.

Carborundum is another product of the electric furnace. It was the invention of Edward Acheson, a graduate of the Edison laboratories. In 1891, Acheson was trying to make artificial diamonds and produced instead the more useful carborundum and graphite.

Another valuable product of the electric furnace was the calcium carbide first produced in 1892 by Thomas Wilson of Spray, North Carolina. Calcium carbide is the basis of acetylene gas, a powerful illuminant that was used in metallurgy, for welding and other purposes.

Alternating Current - Transformer

The transformer, an instrument developed on foundations laid by Henry and Faraday, made it possible to transmit electrical energy over great distances with little loss of power. Alternating current was transformed by the transformer at the source, and again converted at the point of use to a lower and convenient potential for local distribution and consumption.

The first extensive use of the alternating current was in arc lighting. One important American inventor in the domain of alternating current was Elihu Thomson, who began his career as Professor of Chemistry and Mechanics in the Central High School of Philadelphia. Another great promotor of alternating current was George Westinghouse, an inventor and manufacturer of machinery. Two other inventors were Nicola Tesla and Charles S. Bradley, both of them had worked for Edison.

Electric Turbine

The turbine (from the Latin turbo, meaning whirlwind) is a motor that drove the great dynamos for the generation of electric energy. It was either a steam turbine or a water turbine. The steam turbine was developed by Curtis and Parsons. Hydro-electricity is an example of a water turbine. The electric energy produced in the United States by water turbines in 1921 equaled the power of forty million tons of coal. In 1921, hydro-electricity was only in its beginnings, for not more than a tenth of the readily available water power of the country is actually in use.

The first commercial hydro-station for the transmission of power in America was established in 1891 at Telluride, Colorado. It was practically duplicated in the following year at Brodie, Colorado. The motors and generators for these stations came from the Westinghouse plant in Pittsburgh, and Westinghouse also supplied the turbo-generators which inaugurated, in 1895, the delivery of power from Niagara Falls.

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