Since electricity is a natural force that exists in our world, it didn’t have to be invented. It did, however, have to be discovered and understood. Most people give credit to Benjamin Franklin for discovering electricity.
Benjamin Franklin had one of the greatest scientific minds of his time. He was interested in many areas of science, made many discoveries, and invented many things, including bifocal glasses. In the mid-1700s, he became interested in electricity.
Up until that time, scientists had mainly known about and experimented with static electricity. Benjamin Franklin took things a big step ahead. He came up with the idea that electricity had positive and negative elements and that electricity flowed between these elements. He also believed that lightning was a form of this flowing electricity.
In 1752, Franklin conducted his famous kite experiment. In order to show that lightning was electricity, he flew a kite during a thunderstorm. He tied a metal key to the kite string to conduct the electricity.
Just as he thought, electricity from the storm clouds transferred to the kite and electricity flowed down the string and gave him a shock. He’s lucky that he didn’t get hurt, but he didn’t mind the shock since it proved his idea.
Building upon Franklin’s work, many other scientists studied electricity and began to understand more about how it works. For example, in 1879, Thomas Edison patented the electric light bulb and our world has been brighter ever since!
But was Benjamin Franklin really the first person to discover electricity? Maybe not! At the turn of the 17th century, English scientist William Gilbert established the science underlying the study of electricity and magnetism. Inspired by Gilbert’s work, another Englishman, Sir Thomas Browne, made further investigations and wrote books about his findings. Gilbert and Browne are credited with being the first scientists to use the term “electricity.”
Scientists have found evidence that ancient peoples may have experimented with electricity, too. In 1936, a clay pot was discovered that suggests that the first batteries may have been invented over 2,000 years ago. The clay pot contained copper plates, tin alloy, and an iron rod.
It could have been used to create an electric current by filling it with an acidic solution, like vinegar. No one knows what the device was used for, but it sheds some light on the fact that people may have been learning about electricity long before Benjamin Franklin!