Electrical Generator (Dynamo)


Michael Faraday
Joseph Henry

No one person “discovered” electricity. The story about Ben Franklin flying a kite with a key in a thunderstorm and discovering electricity when the kite was struck by lightning is especially ridiculous. A Russian apparently tried the same experiment soon after reading about it and was electrocuted.

Alessandro Volta, who invented the Voltaic battery that made modern electrical experiments practical, is probably the most important early discoverer of electricity. Not long after the world saw everything from electrolysis to the telegram.

However, if any single person should be credited with creating electricity as we know it today that person would be Michael Faraday. We’ve written about Faraday in relation t the electrical transformer, which he also created. However, it is impossible to overemphasize the importance of his work in the modern world. While he never commercialized anything, his foundational work is vital.

Among other things, Englishman Faraday and American Joseph Henry invented the electrical dynamo.

Dynamos use magnetism to spin and generate electricity. By essentially flipping his electric motor around, Faraday demonstrated it could also generate electricity. Significantly, his early generator served as a starting point for more efficient generators in the future. To this day, generators power homes and businesses throughout the world.

Joseph Henry was doing similar work in the US. Henry had invented the electrical magnet, which arguably deserves an Innowiki entry of its own though we try to avoid purely scientific innovations. In 1830, Princeton University funded a trip allowing Henry to meet and collaborate with Faraday. The two worked together to create the dynamo.

Eventually, Edison built on the principle of Faraday’s transformer to create much larger dynamos that generated electricity for a central power station. Westinghouse and Tesla built AC versions of the same and took the market.

Insull paired the Westinghouse generators with Parson’s steam turbines to create the modern (pre-natural gas) electricity plant. Renewables are beginning to take hold but there is a fine chance that the electricity you’re using to read this article came from the evolution of this same technology.

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