Not much over a hundred years ago, electricity, except in the form of lightning, was an unknown force. Its discovery was due to Michael Faraday, the great English scientist. On one occasion, about 1830, he was showing one of his early experiments to a distinguished company at the Royal Institution in London. He showed that when a magnet was brought suddenly near a coil of wire, a slight current of electricity was produced in the wire. Afterwards a lady said to him, “But, Professor Faraday, even if the effect you explained is obtained, what is the use of it?” “Madam”, replied Faraday, “will you tell me the use of a new-born child?”
The new-born child has grown to be a full-grown giant; for it is now one of the greatest natural forces that man has tamed to his own service. The ways in which men have learnt to use this great force are so many those only a few can be touched upon here. The first result of Faraday’s discovery was the electric telegraph, by which messages can be sent to a distance by means of an electric current sent along a conducting wire. “Telegraphy” means “writing-at-a-distance”. The first telegraph was installed in England, in 1835. Since then it has spread all over the world. Not long after, the submarine electric cable was laid under the Atlantic Ocean, connecting England with America.
The next great invention was the electric telephone, first installed in England in 1876. The word “telephone” means “speaking-at-a-distance”; for by the telephone the human voice is carried to a distance by an electric current carried along a conducting wire. By its means we can talk to people, and hear them talking to us, hundreds of miles away. In our own time has come the wonderful invention of radio or wireless. Marconi found that messages could be sent by the electric waves in the ether, without any conducting wires.
This led to broadcasting, by which we can hear music and speeches from countries hundreds and even thousands of miles away. Electric light came into use in the 19th Century, and it is the most used form of lighting today. Then electric power was applied as a motive force to machinery; and electric trams, electric trains, and electrically driven machinery came into use. Electricity is used also for heating houses, for cooking, for refrigerating, and in many other useful ways. If the nineteenth century was the age of steam, the period in which we are now living is the age of electricity.