The Journey of Electricity: When Was It Invented?

The journey of electricity is not a tale of a single "invention" but a chronicle of discovery spanning centuries. From the ancient Greeks' static electricity to today's cutting-edge technologies, delve into the milestones that have defined our relationship with this ever-evolving phenomenon.

Often, when we discuss the origins of vital technologies and discoveries, we encounter the challenge of pinning them down to specific moments of “invention.” The story of electricity is not an exception to this rule. No one individual can be credited with the “invention” of electricity. Instead, electricity’s discovery and understanding have evolved over centuries, through the contributions of many scientists and inventors. This article will outline the key milestones that have shaped the history of electricity as we know it today.

Ancient Observations

Humans first became aware of electricity thousands of years ago. The ancient Greeks discovered that rubbing fur against amber (fossilized tree resin) could attract light objects like feathers. An observation of static electricity. However, the concept of electricity as a force or a form of energy remained unknown.

when was electricity invented? Electricity was not invented, but the ancient Greeks first noticed static electricity.

The Dawn of Electric Science: 17th to 18th Centuries

It wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that scientists began to investigate electricity systematically. English scientist William Gilbert, in the early 17th century, made significant contributions to the study of magnetism and electricity. He proposed that the Earth itself was magnetic and coined the term “electricity” from the Greek word for amber.

Later in the 18th century, American polymath Benjamin Franklin conducted his famous kite experiment. While he didn’t “discover” electricity, Franklin’s research suggested that lightning was a form of electricity, and he introduced the concepts of positive and negative charge.

Around the same time, Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta in Italy made breakthroughs that laid the groundwork for our modern understanding of electricity. Galvani found that frog legs twitched as if alive when struck by a spark of electricity. Volta, disputing Galvani’s theory of “animal electricity,” conducted experiments with different metals and created the voltaic pile, the predecessor to modern batteries.

Electromagnetic Discoveries: 19th Century

The 19th century saw rapid progress in understanding electricity and its relationship with another fundamental force – magnetism.

In 1820, Hans Christian Ørsted discovered that a current flowing through a wire could deflect a compass needle. Demonstrating the link between electricity and magnetism.

This discovery inspired André-Marie Ampère, who formulated Ampère’s law and established the science of electrodynamics. Around the same time, Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction, demonstrating how a changing magnetic field could generate an electric current.

Arguably, one of the most significant breakthroughs came from James Clerk Maxwell, who, in the mid-19th century, unified the various observations and laws about electricity and magnetism into a single theory – Maxwell’s equations. These equations not only explained all known electromagnetic phenomena at that time but also predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves, which include light and radio waves.

The Birth of Electric Power: Late 19th Century

If we think about electricity in terms of a practical, utilizable technology, it was the late 19th century that truly transformed electricity from scientific curiosity into a powerful force for societal change.

In the 1870s and 1880s, inventors like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla developed technologies for generating, distributing, and using electric power on a large scale. Edison developed the direct current (DC) systems, while Tesla advocated for alternating current (AC) systems. While both systems have their uses, it’s Tesla’s AC system that has become the standard for most power distribution networks worldwide. This is mainly due to its efficiency over long distances.

Edison’s contribution also extends to devising practical applications of electricity. Like the incandescent light bulb, which dramatically altered human life by illuminating the dark.

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The 20th Century and Beyond

The 20th century saw the continued evolution of electricity, with the development of electronics and a deeper understanding of the quantum-mechanical nature of electricity. The invention of the transistor in 1947 revolutionized electronics. Paving the way for the development of modern computers and digital technology.

Today, electricity is an integral part of our lives. It powers our homes, our vehicles, and the devices we use to communicate, work, and entertain ourselves. Our understanding and application of electricity are still advancing, with research into superconductivity, nanotechnology, and quantum computing promising exciting developments in the future.


So, when was electricity “invented”? It wasn’t invented in the conventional sense but is a natural phenomenon that humans have learned to understand and harness over centuries. From ancient static electricity to today’s quantum electronics, our knowledge of electricity has been built up piece by piece by curious minds across the ages. It’s a journey of discovery that is far from over, as scientists continue to explore electricity’s potential, driving technological progress and transforming the way we live our lives.

Enjoy learning about electricity?