Join Billy Brightspark for a trip back in time!
Click on a decade to find out how electricity developed during that period of history.
Michael Faraday invents the dynamo (electricity generator). This was the first time that a useful supply of electricity could be produced. The generator needed a rotary (spinning) movement to produce the electricity and this is still the same method today.
As time has progressed, the generators have been made bigger and bigger so that more electricity can be produced. The method by which the generators are turned has changed to make the generation of electricity more efficient.
The development of the carbon arc lamp by Staite and Petrie. The early days of electricity generation was led by the need for light. House and street lighting was very poor, mainly provided by candles and oil lamps inside houses and gas lights in a few streets. Most streets and roads were totally dark at night.
The first electric company to manufacture electricity generating machines (Societe Generale d’Electricitie of Paris). These machines were used to power carbon arc lamps for public lighting – known as ‘limelight’. These lamps needed high voltage direct current (dc), which was very dangerous.
The first lighthouses to be electrically operated were at Blackwall and South Foreland. Lighthouses had previously used paraffin lamps.
Westminster Bridge in London was the first ‘street’ to be lit by ‘limelight’, using the French system set up in 1853.
The Clifton Suspension bridge was opened and was lit by 10 lights for the occasion.
Mahlon Loomis used electricity to make the first radio transmission in America.
First practical telephone demonstrated by Alexander Graham Bell, in America.
The UK's first floodlit football match takes place in Sheffield.
Twenty public lighting schemes were operating in Britain.
First demonstration of a useable carbon filament lamp by Joseph Swann in Newcastle upon Tyne and then by Thomas Edison in America.
First carbon filament lamps available to buy.
Carbon filament lamps needed lower voltages and could operate on both direct current (dc) and alternating current (ac).
First fatal accident due to electric shock.
First Blackpool illuminations, started with just six lights.
First house to be lit using carbon filament light bulbs. Before this, houses would have been lit up using candles, oil lamps or gas lights.
First large-scale demonstration of electric lighting.
First hydro-electric installation at Cragside House in Northumberland. Using the flow of water in a nearby stream enough electricity was generated to light the house.
The first electric lift was demonstrated at Massheim in Germany.
First commercial public and private lighting installed in Godalming, Surrey. A stream was used to drive the generator, the water was then replaced by an engine which later failed and the town went back to using gas lights.
First steam power station. Early power stations used either internal combustion engines (petrol or oil) or steam engines powered by coal to produce the rotary motion needed to drive the generators.
First ‘large’ power station opened, in Brighton.
First practical large scale transformer to enable changes of voltage to be made using alternating currents (ac). Early power stations producing direct current (dc) could only send the electricity a maximum of about a mile before it was too weak to make things work. Transformers only work with alternating current and so power stations could generate electricity at a higher voltage, allowing it to travel further, and then transform it to a lower voltage when it got to where it was to be used.
First steam turbine used to drive a generator. Steam turbines would eventually be the main way by which generators would be turned. Turbines have a sort of ‘fan’, the turbine, inside a tube through which steam at high pressure is passed. The steam makes the turbine spin which then makes the generator spin. The steam was usually produced by burning coal to heat water.
First dishwasher became available in America.
First local council power station in the UK was opened in Bradford.
The first electric oven was installed in a hotel in Switzerland.
Domestic electric appliances began to become available for people to use in their homes. Appliances such as irons, fans, water heaters and ovens became available to buy.
Steam turbines provided enough electricity to be the first real public supply of electricity. This happened in Newcastle upon Tyne.
First underground train to be powered by electricity was opened in London. Before this, underground trains used steam trains that burned coal and produced a lot of smoke – not a good idea in a tunnel underground.
First overhead cables were erected. Before this it was usual to just lay the cables in the gutters at the side of the road.
The first electric trams running on roads were set up in Leeds.
Steam turbines became as good as engines to drive the generators.
First cooling tower appeared at a power station to cool the hot water used by steam turbines.
The first electric oven for use in homes became available. These were made by the Carpenter Electric Heating Manufacturing Company in Minnesota, in America.
First electric heating became available.
First power station to use burning rubbish to produce the heat was opened in Halifax.
First electric toaster produced in Chicago, in America. It toasted one side of the bread at a time.
First large-scale hydro-electric power station opened at Foyers in Scotland.
First escalator was opened at Coney Island in America.
First escalator in the UK installed in Harrods in London.
First electric floor cleaning device invented. It was not successful because it blew the dust away rather than sucking it into a bag.
Alternating current became the most usual type of electricity supplied.
The first coin in the slot meter was installed to allow for the electricity to be paid for before it was used.
First suction cleaning device (vacuum cleaner) became available, invented by Hubert Booth in the UK.
The first all electric cinema was opened in Los Angelos in America.
The efficiency of power stations was improved by crushing coal to a powder before being burnt, rather than using lumps of coal. This allowed the energy in the coal to be released quickly and at a higher temperature.
The first thermionic valve is the ‘birth’ of modern electronics.
The alternating current supplied in the UK was standardised at 50 Hertz. Before this different power stations produced different sorts of frequency so appliances that worked in some places would not work in others.
The modern day tungsten filament became available and replaced the carbon filament bulbs. Tungsten bulbs were brighter, used less electricity and lasted longer.
- 1906 - 1907:
Mass production of the electric washing machine started.
Steam turbines became so efficient that they became the normal way of providing the power to drive the generators.
First refrigerator was built, in America, for commercial use.
The idea of a national grid of electricity was first thought of. This was the idea of linking all the power stations together so that all the electricity was available to all the country rather than small power stations providing the electricity just in their local area.
The voltage of mains electricity was standardised at 240 volts. Before this local power stations produced electricity at lots of different voltages.
The first electric lawn mower became available.
Electric washing machines became available in the UK.
Electric refrigerators became available for people to buy.
First spin dryer became available, produced by the Savage Arms Corporation in America.
Jon Logie Baird gave the first demonstration of television.
The National Grid, first thought of in 1916, started to be built in this year - and was completed in 1937. The National Grid was set up to make electricity available all the time to as many people as possible and to make it cheaper.
Clarence Birdseye produced the first frozen food to be made available to the public. It was fish.
The first electricity pylon in the UK was built near Edinburgh.
The first part of the National Grid was opened – in central Scotland.
Clarence Birdseye produced the first frozen vegetables for sale to customers.
1 in 3 houses in the UK had a supply of electricity.
The first large scale power failure occurred in South East England - all the lights went out.
The first Launderette (Washeteria) opened in Fort Worth, Texas in America.
First fluorescent lights became available.
First public broadcasts of television by the BBC.
The National Grid was completed.
The first automatic tea maker was made available. Called a ‘Teasmade’ it was made by the British Vacuum Cleaner Company.
The National Grid control room was opened at Bankside in London. Electricity supply could now be controlled from one place.
First use of gas as the fuel to burn at a power station. Up to this time coal had been the most common fuel to use.
First electric razor produced by Remmington.
The first wind generator was set up in America.
First programmable computer, called ‘Colossus’ built at Bletchley Park to help break secret codes during the second world war. This was kept secret until 1976. ‘Colossus’ used thermionic valves and was the size of a house.
2 out of 3 houses now had a supply of electricity – the number had doubled in just 10 years.
All mains electricity to homes was now at 240 volts, alternating current (ac) at 50 Hertz. Direct current (dc) supplies were stopped.
The first heat producing nuclear generator was opened at Harwell.
The real birth of electronics started with the invention of the transistor.
The 13 amp square pin plug was introduced as the standard to be used by everyone. This replaced the small 5 amp round two or three pin and large 15 amp round pin plugs that had been used up to this time.
The first electric storage heaters became available.
Plastic covered wire became available. Before this cables were either cloth or rubber covered, both of which deteriorated with time and became dangerous.
The first peat powered power station was opened in Ireland.
The first electric dentist's chair was invented.
The first nuclear power station in the UK was opened at Calder Hall. The heat produced by a nuclear reaction was used to heat water to provide the steam to drive the turbines.
The first microwave oven was demonstrated.
First electronic calculator made in Japan – weighed 25 kg.
Street lighting began to be improved with the introduction of Sodium lamps (the orange lights that are still used today).
The largest coal powered power station in the UK was opened at Drax in Yorkshire.
Greenhouses to grow tomatoes were built at the larger power stations using ‘free’ heat from the cooling water used in the stations.
Long life, energy efficient light bulbs became available.