1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Electricity
ELECTRICITY. This article is devoted to a general sketch of the history of the development of electrical knowledge on both the theoretical and the practical sides. The two great branches of electrical theory which concern the phenomena of electricity at rest, or “frictional” or “static” electricity, and of electricity in motion, or electric currents, are treated in two separate articles, Electrostatics and Electrokinetics. The phenomena attendant on the passage of electricity through solids, through liquids and through gases, are described in the article Conduction, Electric, and also Electrolysis, and the propagation of electrical vibrations in Electric Waves. The interconnexion of magnetism (which has an article to itself) and electricity is discussed in Electromagnetism, and these manifestations in nature in Atmospheric Electricity; Aurora Polaris and Magnetism, Terrestrial. The general principles of electrical engineering will be found in Electricity Supply, and further details respecting the generation and use of electrical power are given in such articles as Dynamo; Motors, Electric; Transformers; Accumulator; Power Transmission: Electric; Traction; Lighting: Electric; Electrochemistry and Electrometallurgy. The principles of telegraphy (land, submarine and wireless) and of telephony are discussed in the articles Telegraph and Telephone, and various electrical instruments are treated in separate articles such as Amperemeter; Electrometer; Galvanometer; Voltmeter; Wheatstone’s Bridge; Potentiometer; Meter, Electric; Electrophorus; Leyden Jar; &c.
The term “electricity” is applied to denote the physical agency which exhibits itself by effects of attraction and repulsion when particular substances are rubbed or heated, also in certain chemical and physiological actions and in connexion with moving magnets and metallic circuits. The name is derived from the word electrica, first used by William Gilbert (1544–1603) in his epoch-making treatise De magnete, magneticisque corporibus, et de magno magnete tellure, published in 1600, to denote substances which possess a similar property to amber (= electrum, from ἤλεκτρον) of attracting light objects when rubbed. Hence the phenomena came to be collectively called electrical, a term first used by William Barlowe, archdeacon of Salisbury, in 1618, and the study of them, electrical science.
Gilbert was the first to conduct systematic scientific experiments on electrical phenomena. Prior to his date the scanty knowledge possessed by the ancients and enjoyed in the middle ages began and ended with facts said to have been familiar to Thales of Miletus (600 B.C.) and mentioned by Theophrastus (321 B.C.) and Pliny (A.D. 70), namely, that amber, jet and one or two other substances possessed the power, when rubbed, of attracting fragments of straw, leaves or feathers. Starting with careful and accurate observations on facts concerning the mysterious properties of amber and the lodestone, Gilbert laid the foundations of modern electric and magnetic science on the true experimental and inductive basis. The subsequent history of electricity may be divided into four well-marked periods. The first extends from the date of publication of Gilbert’s great treatise in 1600 to the invention by Volta of the voltaic pile and the first production of the electric current in 1799. The second dates from Volta’s discovery to the discovery by Faraday in 1831 of the induction of electric currents and the creation of currents by the motion of conductors in magnetic fields, which initiated the era of modern electrotechnics. The third covers the period between 1831 and Clerk Maxwell’s enunciation of the electromagnetic theory of light in 1865 and the invention of the self-exciting dynamo, which marks another great epoch in the development of the subject; and the fourth comprises the modern development of electric theory and of absolute quantitative measurements, and above all, of the applications of this knowledge in electrical engineering. We shall sketch briefly the historical progress during these various stages, and also the growth of electrical theories of electricity during that time.
First Period.—Gilbert was probably led to study the phenomena of the attraction of iron by the lodestone in consequence of his conversion to the Copernican theory of the earth’s motion, and thence proceeded to study the attractions produced by amber. An account of his electrical discoveries is given in the De magnete, lib. ii. cap. 2. He invented the versorium or electrical needle and proved that innumerable bodies he called electrica, when rubbed, can attract the needle of the versorium (see Electroscope). Robert Boyle added many new facts and gave an account of them in his book, The Origin of Electricity. He showed that the attraction between the rubbed body and the test object is mutual. Otto von Guericke (1602–1686) constructed the first electrical machine with a revolving ball of sulphur (see Electrical Machine), and noticed that light objects were repelled after being attracted by excited electrics. Sir Isaac Newton substituted a ball of glass for sulphur in the electrical machine and made other not unimportant additions to electrical knowledge. Francis Hawksbee (d. 1713) published in his book Physico-Mechanical Experiments (1709), and in several Memoirs in the Phil. Trans. about 1707, the results of his electrical inquiries. He showed that light was produced when mercury was shaken up in a glass tube exhausted of its air. Dr Wall observed the spark and crackling sound when warm amber was rubbed, and compared them with thunder and lightning (Phil. Trans., 1708, 26, p. 69). Stephen Gray (1696–1736) noticed in 1720 that electricity could be excited by the friction of hair, silk, wool, paper and other bodies. In 1729 Gray made the important discovery that some bodies were conductors and others non-conductors of electricity. In conjunction with his friend Granville Wheeler (d. 1770), he conveyed the electricity from rubbed glass, a distance of 886 ft., along a string supported on silk threads (Phil. Trans., 1735–1736, 39, pp. 16, 166 and 400). Jean Théophile Desaguliers (1683–1744) announced soon after that electrics were non-conductors, and conductors were non-electrics. C. F. de C. du Fay (1699–1739) made the great discovery that electricity is of two kinds, vitreous and resinous (Phil. Trans., 1733, 38, p. 263), the first being produced when glass, crystal, &c. are rubbed with silk, and the second when resin, amber, silk or paper, &c. are excited by friction with flannel. He also discovered that a body charged with positive or negative electricity repels a body free to move when the latter is charged with electricity of like sign, but attracts it if it is charged with electricity of opposite sign, i.e. positive repels positive and negative repels negative, but positive attracts negative. It is to du Fay also that we owe the abolition of the distinction between electrics and non-electrics. He showed that all substances could be electrified by friction, but that to electrify conductors they must be insulated or supported on non-conductors. Various improvements were made in the electrical machine, and thereby experimentalists were provided with the means of generating strong electrification; C. F. Ludolff (1707–1763) of Berlin in 1744 succeeded in igniting ether with the electric spark (Phil. Trans., 1744, 43, p. 167).
For a very full list of the papers and works of these early electrical philosophers, the reader is referred to the bibliography on Electricity in Dr Thomas Young’s Natural Philosophy, vol. ii. p. 415.
In 1745 the important invention of the Leyden jar or condenser was made by E. G. von Kleist of Kammin, and almost simultaneously by Cunaeus and Pieter van Musschenbroek (1692–1761) of Leiden (see Leyden Jar). Sir William Watson (1715–1787) in England first observed the flash of light when a Leyden jar is discharged, and he and Dr John Bevis (1695–1771) suggested coating the jar inside and outside with tinfoil. Watson carried out elaborate experiments to discover how far the electric discharge of the jar could be conveyed along metallic wires and was able to accomplish it for a distance of 2 m., making the important observation that the electricity appeared to be transmitted instantaneously.
Franklin’s Researches.—Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was one of the great pioneers of electrical science, and made the ever-memorable experimental identification of lightning and electric spark. He argued that electricity is not created by friction, but merely collected from its state of diffusion through other matter by which it is attracted. He asserted that the glass globe, when rubbed, attracted the electrical fire, and took it from the rubber, the same globe being disposed, when the friction ceases, to give out its electricity to any body which has less. In the case of the charged Leyden jar, he asserted that the inner coating of tinfoil had received more than its ordinary quantity of electricity, and was therefore electrified positively, or plus, while the outer coating of tinfoil having had its ordinary quantity of electricity diminished, was electrified negatively, or minus. Hence the cause of the shock and spark when the jar is discharged, or when the superabundant or plus electricity of the inside is transferred by a conducting body to the defective or minus electricity of the outside. This theory of the Leyden phial Franklin supported very ingeniously by showing that the outside and the inside coating possessed electricities of opposite sign, and that, in charging it, exactly as much electricity is added on one side as is subtracted from the other. The abundant discharge of electricity by points was observed by Franklin is his earliest experiments, and also the power of points to conduct it copiously from an electrified body. Hence he was furnished with a simple method of collecting electricity from other bodies, and he was enabled to perform those remarkable experiments which are chiefly connected with his name. Hawksbee, Wall and J. A. Nollet (1700–1770) had successively suggested the identity of lightning and the electric spark, and of thunder and the snap of the spark. Previously to the year 1750, Franklin drew up a statement, in which he showed that all the general phenomena and effects which were produced by electricity had their counterparts in lightning. After waiting some time for the erection of a spire at Philadelphia, by means of which he hoped to bring down the electricity of a thunderstorm, he conceived the idea of sending up a kite among thunder-clouds. With this view he made a small cross of two small light strips of cedar, the arms being sufficiently long to reach to the four corners of a large thin silk handkerchief when extended. The corners of the handkerchief were tied to the extremities of the cross, and when the body of the kite was thus formed, a tail, loop and string were added to it. The body was made of silk to enable it to bear the violence and wet of a thunderstorm. A very sharp pointed wire was fixed at the top of the upright stick of the cross, so as to rise a foot or more above the wood. A silk ribbon was tied to the end of the twine next the hand, and a key suspended at the junction of the twine and silk. In company with his son, Franklin raised the kite like a common one, in the first thunderstorm, which happened in the month of June 1752. To keep the silk ribbon dry, he stood within a door, taking care that the twine did not touch the frame of the door; and when the thunder-clouds came over the kite he watched the state of the string. A cloud passed without any electrical indications, and he began to despair of success. At last, however, he saw the loose filaments of the twine standing out every way, and he found them to be attracted by the approach of his finger. The suspended key gave a spark on the application of his knuckle, and when the string had become wet with the rain the electricity became abundant. A Leyden jar was charged at the key, and by the electric fire thus obtained spirits were inflamed, and many other experiments performed which had been formerly made by excited electrics. In subsequent trials with another apparatus, he found that the clouds were sometimes positively and sometimes negatively electrified, and so demonstrated the perfect identity of lightning and electricity. Having thus succeeded in drawing the electric fire from the clouds, Franklin conceived the idea of protecting buildings from lightning by erecting on their highest parts pointed iron wires or conductors communicating with the ground. The electricity of a hovering or a passing cloud would thus be carried off slowly and silently; and if the cloud was highly charged, the lightning would strike in preference the elevated conductors. The most important of Franklin’s electrical writings are his Experiments and Observations on Electricity made at Philadelphia, 1751–1754; his Letters on Electricity; and various memoirs and letters in the Phil. Trans. from 1756 to 1760.
About the same time that Franklin was making his kite experiment in America, T. F. Dalibard (1703–1779) and others in France had erected a long iron rod at Marli, and obtained results agreeing with those of Franklin. Similar investigations were pursued by many others, among whom Father G. B. Beccaria (1716–1781) deserves especial mention. John Canton (1718–1772) made the important contribution to knowledge that electricity of either sign could be produced on nearly any body by friction with appropriate substances, and that a rod of glass roughened on one half was excited negatively in the rough part and positively in the smooth part by friction with the same rubber. Canton first suggested the use of an amalgam of mercury and tin for use with glass cylinder electrical machines to improve their action. His most important discovery, however, was that of electrostatic induction, the fact that one electrified body can produce charges of electricity upon another insulated body, and that when this last is touched it is left electrified with a charge of opposite sign to that of the inducing charge (Phil. Trans., 1753–1754). We shall make mention lower down of Canton’s contributions to electrical theory. Robert Symmer (d. 1763) showed that quite small differences determined the sign of the electrification that was generated by the friction of two bodies one against the other. Thus wearing a black and a white silk stocking one over the other, he found they were electrified oppositely when rubbed and drawn off, and that such a rubbed silk stocking when deposited in a Leyden jar gave up its electrification to the jar (Phil. Trans., 1759). Ebenezer Kinnersley (1711–1778) of Philadelphia made useful observations on the elongation and fusion of iron wires by electrical discharges (Phil. Trans., 1763). A contemporary of Canton and co-discoverer with him of the facts of electrostatic induction was the Swede, Johann Karl Wilcke (1732–1796), then resident in Germany, who in 1762 published an account of experiments in which a metal plate held above the upper surface of a glass table was subjected to the action of a charge on an electrified metal plate held below the glass (Kon. Schwedische Akad. Abhandl., 1762, 24, p. 213).
Pyro-electricity.—The subject of pyro-electricity, or the power possessed by some minerals of becoming electrified when merely heated, and of exhibiting positive and negative electricity, now began to attract notice. It is possible that the lyncurium of the ancients, which according to Theophrastus attracted light bodies, was tourmaline, a mineral found in Ceylon, which had been christened by the Dutch with the name of aschentrikker, or the attractor of ashes. In 1717 Louis Lémery exhibited to the Paris Academy of Sciences a stone from Ceylon which attracted light bodies; and Linnaeus in mentioning his experiments gives the stone the name of lapis electricus. Giovanni Caraffa, duca di Noja (1715–1768), was led in 1758 to purchase some of the stones called tourmaline in Holland, and, assisted by L. J. M. Daubenton and Michel Adanson, he made a series of experiments with them, a description of which he gave in a letter to G. L. L. Buffon in 1759. The subject, however, had already engaged the attention of the German philosopher, F. U. T. Aepinus, who published an account of them in 1756. Hitherto nothing had been said respecting the necessity of heat to excite the tourmaline; but it was shown by Aepinus that a temperature between 991° and 212° Fahr. was requisite for the development of its attractive powers. Benjamin Wilson (Phil. Trans., 1763, &c.), J. Priestley, and Canton continued the investigation, but it was reserved for the Abbé Haüy to throw a clear light on this curious branch of the science (Traité de minéralogie, 1801). He found that the electricity of the tourmaline decreased rapidly from the summits or poles towards the middle of the crystal, where it was imperceptible; and he discovered that if a tourmaline is broken into any number of fragments, each fragment, when excited, has two opposite poles. Haüy discovered the same property in the Siberian and Brazilian topaz, borate of magnesia, mesotype, prehnite, sphene and calamine. He also found that the polarity which minerals receive from heat has a relation to the secondary forms of their crystals—the tourmaline, for example, having its resinous pole at the summit of the crystal which has three faces. In the other pyro-electric crystals above mentioned, Haüy detected the same deviation from the rules of symmetry in their secondary crystals which occurs in tourmaline. C. P. Brard (1788–1838) discovered that pyro-electricity was a property of axinite; and it was afterwards detected in other minerals. In repeating and extending the experiments of Haüy much later, Sir David Brewster discovered that various artificial salts were pyro-electric, and he mentions the tartrates of potash and soda and tartaric acid as exhibiting this property in a very strong degree. He also made many experiments with the tourmaline when cut into thin slices, and reduced to the finest powder, in which state each particle preserved its pyro-electricity; and he showed that scolezite and mesolite, even when deprived of their water of crystallization and reduced to powder, retain their property of becoming electrical by heat. When this white powder is heated and stirred about by any substance whatever, it collects in masses like new-fallen snow, and adheres to the body with which it is stirred.
Animal electricity.—The observation that certain animals could give shocks resembling the shock of a Leyden jar induced a closer examination of these powers. The ancients were acquainted with the benumbing power of the torpedo-fish, but it was not till 1676 that modern naturalists had their attention again drawn to the fact. E. Bancroft was the first person who distinctly suspected that the effects of the torpedo were electrical. In 1773 John Walsh (d. 1795) and Jan Ingenhousz (1730–1799) proved by many curious experiments that the shock of the torpedo was an electrical one (Phil. Trans., 1773–1775); and John Hunter (id. 1773, 1775) examined and described the anatomical structure of its electrical organs. A. von Humboldt and Gay-Lussac (Ann. Chim., 1805), and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (Gilb. Ann., 1803) pursued the subject with success; and Henry Cavendish (Phil. Trans., 1776) constructed an artificial torpedo, by which he imitated the actions of the living animal. The subject was also investigated (Phil. Trans., 1812, 1817) by Dr T. J. Todd (1789–1840), Sir Humphry Davy (id. 1829), John Davy (id. 1832, 1834, 1841) and Faraday (Exp. Res., vol. ii.). The power of giving electric shocks has been discovered also in the Gymnotus electricus (electric eel), the Malapterurus electricus, the Trichiurus electricus, and the Tetraodon electricus. The most interesting and the best known of these singular fishes is the Gymnotus or Surinam eel. Humboldt gives a very graphic account of the combats which are carried on in South America between the gymnoti and the wild horses in the vicinity of Calabozo.
Cavendish’s Researches.—The work of Henry Cavendish (1731–1810) entitles him to a high place in the list of electrical investigators. A considerable part of Cavendish’s work was rescued from oblivion in 1879 and placed in an easily accessible form by Professor Clerk Maxwell, who edited the original manuscripts in the possession of the duke of Devonshire. Amongst Cavendish’s important contributions were his exact measurements of electrical capacity. The leading idea which distinguishes his work from that of his predecessors was his use of the phrase “degree of electrification” with a clear scientific definition which shows it to be equivalent in meaning to the modern term “electric potential.” Cavendish compared the capacity of different bodies with those of conducting spheres of known diameter and states these capacities in “globular inches,” a globular inch being the capacity of a sphere 1 in. in diameter. Hence his measurements are all directly comparable with modern electrostatic measurements in which the unit of capacity is that of a sphere 1 centimetre in radius. Cavendish measured the capacity of disks and condensers of various forms, and proved that the capacity of a Leyden pane is proportional to the surface of the tinfoil and inversely as the thickness of the glass. In connexion with this subject he anticipated one of Faraday’s greatest discoveries, namely, the effect of the dielectric or insulator upon the capacity of a condenser formed with it, in other words, made the discovery of specific inductive capacity (see Electrical Researches, p. 183). He made many measurements of the electric conductivity of different solids and liquids, by comparing the intensity of the electric shock taken through his body and various conductors. He seems in this way to have educated in himself a very precise “electrical sense,” making use of his own nervous system as a kind of physiological galvanometer. One of the most important investigations he made in this way was to find out, as he expressed it, “what power of the velocity the resistance is proportional to.” Cavendish meant by the term “velocity” what we now call the current, and by “resistance” the electromotive force which maintains the current. By various experiments with liquids in tubes he found this power was nearly unity. This result thus obtained by Cavendish in January 1781, that the current varies in direct proportion to the electromotive force, was really an anticipation of the fundamental law of electric flow, discovered independently by G. S. Ohm in 1827, and since known as Ohm’s Law. Cavendish also enunciated in 1776 all the laws of division of electric current between circuits in parallel, although they are generally supposed to have been first given by Sir C. Wheatstone. Another of his great investigations was the determination of the law according to which electric force varies with the distance. Starting from the fact that if an electrified globe, placed within two hemispheres which fit over it without touching, is brought in contact with these hemispheres, it gives up the whole of its charge to them—in other words, that the charge on an electrified body is wholly on the surface—he was able to deduce by most ingenious reasoning the law that electric force varies inversely as the square of the distance. The accuracy of his measurement, by which he established within 2% the above law, was only limited by the sensibility, or rather insensibility, of the pith ball electrometer, which was his only means of detecting the electric charge. In the accuracy of his quantitative measurements and the range of his researches and his combination of mathematical and physical knowledge, Cavendish may not inaptly be described as the Kelvin of the 18th century. Nothing but his curious indifference to the publication of his work prevented him from securing earlier recognition for it.
Coulomb’s Work.—Contemporary with Cavendish was C. A. Coulomb (1736–1806), who in France addressed himself to the same kind of exact quantitative work as Cavendish in England. Coulomb has made his name for ever famous by his invention and application of his torsion balance to the experimental verification of the fundamental law of electric attraction, in which, however, he was anticipated by Cavendish, namely, that the force of attraction between two small electrified spherical bodies varies as the product of their charges and inversely as the square of the distance of their centres. Coulomb’s work received better publication than Cavendish’s at the time of its accomplishment, and provided a basis on which mathematicians could operate. Accordingly the close of the 18th century drew into the arena of electrical investigation on its mathematical side P. S. Laplace, J. B. Biot, and above all, S. D. Poisson. Adopting the hypothesis of two fluids, Coulomb investigated experimentally and theoretically the distribution of electricity on the surface of bodies by means of his proof plane. He determined the law of distribution between two conducting bodies in contact; and measured with his proof plane the density of the electricity at different points of two spheres in contact, and enunciated an important law. He ascertained the distribution of electricity among several spheres (whether equal or unequal) placed in contact in a straight line; and he measured the distribution of electricity on the surface of a cylinder, and its distribution between a sphere and cylinder of different lengths but of the same diameter. His experiments on the dissipation of electricity possess also a high value. He found that the momentary dissipation was proportional to the degree of electrification at the time, and that, when the charge was moderate, its dissipation was not altered in bodies of different kinds or shapes. The temperature and pressure of the atmosphere did not produce any sensible change; but he concluded that the dissipation was nearly proportional to the cube of the quantity of moisture in the air. In examining the dissipation which takes place along imperfectly insulating substances, he found that a thread of gum-lac was the most perfect of all insulators; that it insulated ten times as well as a dry silk thread; and that a silk thread covered with fine sealing-wax insulated as powerfully as gum-lac when it had four times its length. He found also that the dissipation of electricity along insulators was chiefly owing to adhering moisture, but in some measure also to a slight conducting power. For his memoirs see Mém. de math. et phys. de l’acad. de sc., 1785, &c.
Second Period.—We now enter upon the second period of electrical research inaugurated by the epoch-making discovery of Alessandro Volta (1745–1827). L. Galvani had made in 1790 his historic observations on the muscular contraction produced in the bodies of recently killed frogs when an electrical machine was being worked in the same room, and described them in 1791 (De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius, Bologna, 1791). Volta followed up these observations with rare philosophic insight and experimental skill. He showed that all conductors liquid and solid might be divided into two classes which he called respectively conductors of the first and of the second class, the first embracing metals and carbon in its conducting form, and the second class, water, aqueous solutions of various kinds, and generally those now called electrolytes. In the case of conductors of the first class he proved by the use of the condensing electroscope, aided probably by some form of multiplier or doubler, that a difference of potential (see Electrostatics) was created by the mere contact of two such conductors, one of them being positively electrified and the other negatively. Volta showed, however, that if a series of bodies of the first class, such as disks of various metals, are placed in contact, the potential difference between the first and the last is just the same as if they are immediately in contact. There is no accumulation of potential. If, however, pairs of metallic disks, made, say, of zinc and copper, are alternated with disks of cloth wetted with a conductor of the second class, such, for instance, as dilute acid or any electrolyte, then the effect of the feeble potential difference between one pair of copper and zinc disks is added to that of the potential difference between the next pair, and thus by a sufficiently long series of pairs any required difference of potential can be accumulated.
The Voltaic Pile.—This led him about 1799 to devise his famous voltaic pile consisting of disks of copper and zinc or other metals with wet cloth placed between the pairs. Numerous examples of Volta’s original piles at one time existed in Italy, and were collected together for an exhibition held at Como in 1899, but were unfortunately destroyed by a disastrous fire on the 8th of July 1899. Volta’s description of his pile was communicated in a letter to Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society of London, on the 20th of March 1800, and was printed in the Phil. Trans., vol. 90, pt. 1, p. 405. It was then found that when the end plates of Volta’s pile were connected to an electroscope the leaves diverged either with positive or negative electricity. Volta also gave his pile another form, the couronne des tasses (crown of cups), in which connected strips of copper and zinc were used to bridge between cups of water or dilute acid. Volta then proved that all metals could be arranged in an electromotive series such that each became positive when placed in contact with the one next below it in the series. The origin of the electromotive force in the pile has been much discussed, and Volta’s discoveries gave rise to one of the historic controversies of science. Volta maintained that the mere contact of metals was sufficient to produce the electrical difference of the end plates of the pile. The discovery that chemical action was involved in the process led to the advancement of the chemical theory of the pile and this was strengthened by the growing insight into the principle of the conservation of energy. In 1851 Lord Kelvin (Sir W. Thomson), by the use of his then newly-invented electrometer, was able to confirm Volta’s observations on contact electricity by irrefutable evidence, but the contact theory of the voltaic pile was then placed on a basis consistent with the principle of the conservation of energy. A. A. de la Rive and Faraday were ardent supporters of the chemical theory of the pile, and even at the present time opinions of physicists can hardly be said to be in entire accordance as to the source of the electromotive force in a voltaic couple or pile.
Improvements in the form of the voltaic pile were almost immediately made by W. Cruickshank (1745–1800), Dr W. H. Wollaston and Sir H. Davy, and these, together with other eminent continental chemists, such as A. F. de Fourcroy, L. J. Thénard and J. W. Ritter (1776–1810), ardently prosecuted research with the new instrument. One of the first discoveries made with it was its power to electrolyse or chemically decompose certain solutions. William Nicholson (1753–1815) and Sir Anthony Carlisle (1768–1840) in 1800 constructed a pile of silver and zinc plates, and placing the terminal wires in water noticed the evolution from these wires of bubbles of gas, which they proved to be oxygen and hydrogen. These two gases, as Cavendish and James Watt had shown in 1784, were actually the constituents of water. From that date it was clearly recognized that a fresh implement of great power had been given to the chemist. Large voltaic piles were then constructed by Andrew Crosse (1784–1855) and Sir H. Davy, and improvements initiated by Wollaston and Robert Hare (1781–1858) of Philadelphia. In 1806 Davy communicated to the Royal Society of London a celebrated paper on some “Chemical Agencies of Electricity,” and after providing himself at the Royal Institution of London with a battery of several hundred cells, he announced in 1807 his great discovery of the electrolytic decomposition of the alkalis, potash and soda, obtaining therefrom the metals potassium and sodium. In July 1808 Davy laid a request before the managers of the Royal Institution that they would set on foot a subscription for the purchase of a specially large voltaic battery; as a result he was provided with one of 2000 pairs of plates, and the first experiment performed with it was the production of the electric arc light between carbon poles. Davy followed up his initial work with a long and brilliant series of electrochemical investigations described for the most part in the Phil. Trans. of the Royal Society.
Magnetic Action of Electric Current.—Noticing an analogy between the polarity of the voltaic pile and that of the magnet, philosophers had long been anxious to discover a relation between the two, but twenty years elapsed after the invention of the pile before Hans Christian Oersted (1777–1851), professor of natural philosophy in the university of Copenhagen, made in 1819 the discovery which has immortalized his name. In the Annals of Philosophy (1820, 16, p. 273) is to be found an English translation of Oersted’s original Latin essay (entitled “Experiments on the Effect of a Current of Electricity on the Magnetic Needle”), dated the 21st of July 1820, describing his discovery. In it Oersted describes the action he considers is taking place around the conductor joining the extremities of the pile; he speaks of it as the electric conflict, and says: “It is sufficiently evident that the electric conflict is not confined to the conductor, but is dispersed pretty widely in the circumjacent space. We may likewise conclude that this conflict performs circles round the wire, for without this condition it seems impossible that one part of the wire when placed below the magnetic needle should drive its pole to the east, and when placed above it, to the west.” Oersted’s important discovery was the fact that when a wire joining the end plates of a voltaic pile is held near a pivoted magnet or compass needle, the latter is deflected and places itself more or less transversely to the wire, the direction depending upon whether the wire is above or below the needle, and on the manner in which the copper or zinc ends of the pile are connected to it. It is clear, moreover, that Oersted clearly recognized the existence of what is now called the magnetic field round the conductor. This discovery of Oersted, like that of Volta, stimulated philosophical investigation in a high degree.
Electrodynamics.—On the 2nd of October 1820, A. M. Ampère presented to the French Academy of Sciences an important memoir, in which he summed up the results of his own and D. F. J. Arago’s previous investigations in the new science of electromagnetism, and crowned that labour by the announcement of his great discovery of the dynamical action between conductors conveying the electric currents. Ampère in this paper gave an account of his discovery that conductors conveying electric currents exercise a mutual attraction or repulsion on one another, currents flowing in the same direction in parallel conductors attracting, and those in opposite directions repelling. Respecting this achievement when developed in its experimental and mathematical completeness, Clerk Maxwell says that it was “perfect in form and unassailable in accuracy.” By a series of well-chosen experiments Ampère established the laws of this mutual action, and not only explained observed facts by a brilliant train of mathematical analysis, but predicted others subsequently experimentally realized. These investigations led him to the announcement of the fundamental law of action between elements of current, or currents in infinitely short lengths of linear conductors, upon one another at a distance; summed up in compact expression this law states that the action is proportional to the product of the current strengths of the two elements, and the lengths of the two elements, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the two elements, and also directly proportional to a function of the angles which the line joining the elements makes with the directions of the two elements respectively. Nothing is more remarkable in the history of discovery than the manner in which Ampère seized upon the right clue which enabled him to disentangle the complicated phenomena of electrodynamics and to deduce them all as a consequence of one simple fundamental law, which occupies in electrodynamics the position of the Newtonian law of gravitation in physical astronomy.
In 1821 Michael Faraday (1791–1867), who was destined later on to do so much for the science of electricity, discovered electromagnetic rotation, having succeeded in causing a wire conveying a voltaic current to rotate continuously round the pole of a permanent magnet. This experiment was repeated in a variety of forms by A. A. De la Rive, Peter Barlow (1776–1862), William Ritchie (1790–1837), William Sturgeon (1783–1850), and others; and Davy (Phil. Trans., 1823) showed that when two wires connected with the pole of a battery were dipped into a cup of mercury placed on the pole of a powerful magnet, the fluid rotated in opposite directions about the two electrodes.
Electromagnetism.—In 1820 Arago (Ann. Chim. Phys., 1820, 15, p. 94) and Davy (Annals of Philosophy, 1821) discovered independently the power of the electric current to magnetize iron and steel. Félix Savary (1797–1841) made some very curious observations in 1827 on the magnetization of steel needles placed at different distances from a wire conveying the discharge of a Leyden jar (Ann. Chim. Phys., 1827, 34). W. Sturgeon in 1824 wound a copper wire round a bar of iron bent in the shape of a horseshoe, and passing a voltaic current through the wire showed that the iron became powerfully magnetized as long as the connexion with the pile was maintained (Trans. Soc. Arts, 1825). These researches gave us the electromagnet, almost as potent an instrument of research and invention as the pile itself (see Electromagnetism).
Ampère had already previously shown that a spiral conductor or solenoid when traversed by an electric current possesses magnetic polarity, and that two such solenoids act upon one another when traversed by electric currents as if they were magnets. Joseph Henry, in the United States, first suggested the construction of what were then called intensity electromagnets, by winding upon a horseshoe-shaped piece of soft iron many superimposed windings of copper wire, insulated by covering it with silk or cotton, and then sending through the coils the current from a voltaic battery. The dependence of the intensity of magnetization on the strength of the current was subsequently investigated (Pogg. Ann. Phys., 1839, 47) by H. F. E. Lenz (1804–1865) and M. H. von Jacobi (1801–1874). J. P. Joule found that magnetization did not increase proportionately with the current, but reached a maximum (Sturgeon’s Annals of Electricity, 1839, 4). Further investigations on this subject were carried on subsequently by W. E. Weber (1804–1891), J. H. J. Müller (1809–1875), C. J. Dub (1817–1873), G. H. Wiedemann (1826–1899), and others, and in modern times by H. A. Rowland (1848–1901), Shelford Bidwell (b. 1848), John Hopkinson (1849–1898), J. A. Ewing (b. 1855) and many others. Electric magnets of great power were soon constructed in this manner by Sturgeon, Joule, Henry, Faraday and Brewster. Oersted’s discovery in 1819 was indeed epoch-making in the degree to which it stimulated other research. It led at once to the construction of the galvanometer as a means of detecting and measuring the electric current in a conductor. In 1820 J. S. C. Schweigger (1779–1857) with his “multiplier” made an advance upon Oersted’s discovery, by winding the wire conveying the electric current many times round the pivoted magnetic needle and thus increasing the deflection; and L. Nobili (1784–1835) in 1825 conceived the ingenious idea of neutralizing the directive effect of the earth’s magnetism by employing a pair of magnetized steel needles fixed to one axis, but with their magnetic poles pointing in opposite directions. Hence followed the astatic multiplying galvanometer.
Electrodynamic Rotation.—The study of the relation between the magnet and the circuit conveying an electric current then led Arago to the discovery of the “magnetism of rotation.” He found that a vibrating magnetic compass needle came to rest sooner when placed over a plate of copper than otherwise, and also that a plate of copper rotating under a suspended magnet tended to drag the magnet in the same direction. The matter was investigated by Charles Babbage, Sir J. F. W. Herschel, Peter Barlow and others, but did not receive a final explanation until after the discovery of electromagnetic induction by Faraday in 1831. Ampère’s investigations had led electricians to see that the force acting upon a magnetic pole due to a current in a neighbouring conductor was such as to tend to cause the pole to travel round the conductor. Much ingenuity had, however, to be expended before a method was found of exhibiting such a rotation. Faraday first succeeded by the simple but ingenious device of using a light magnetic needle tethered flexibly to the bottom of a cup containing mercury so that one pole of the magnet was just above the surface of the mercury. On bringing down on to the mercury surface a wire conveying an electric current, and allowing the current to pass through the mercury and out at the bottom, the magnetic pole at once began to rotate round the wire (Exper. Res., 1822, 2, p. 148). Faraday and others then discovered, as already mentioned, means to make the conductor conveying the current rotate round a magnetic pole, and Ampère showed that a magnet could be made to rotate on its own axis when a current was passed through it. The difficulty in this case consisted in discovering means by which the current could be passed through one half of the magnet without passing it through the other half. This, however, was overcome by sending the current out at the centre of the magnet by means of a short length of wire dipping into an annular groove containing mercury. Barlow, Sturgeon and others then showed that a copper disk could be made to rotate between the poles of a horseshoe magnet when a current was passed through the disk from the centre to the circumference, the disk being rendered at the same time freely movable by making a contact with the circumference by means of a mercury trough. These experiments furnished the first elementary forms of electric motor, since it was then seen that rotatory motion could be produced in masses of metal by the mutual action of conductors conveying electric current and magnetic fields. By his discovery of thermo-electricity in 1822 (Pogg. Ann. Phys., 6), T. J. Seebeck (1770–1831) opened up a new region of research (see Thermo-electricity). James Cumming (1777–1861) in 1823 (Annals of Philosophy, 1823) found that the thermo-electric series varied with the temperature, and J. C. A. Peltier (1785–1845) in 1834 discovered that a current passed across the junction of two metals either generated or absorbed heat.
Ohm’s Law.—In 1827 Dr G. S. Ohm (1787–1854) rendered a great service to electrical science by his mathematical investigation of the voltaic circuit, and publication of his paper, Die galvanische Kette mathematisch bearbeitet. Before his time, ideas on the measurable quantities with which we are concerned in an electric circuit were extremely vague. Ohm introduced the clear idea of current strength as an effect produced by electromotive force acting as a cause in a circuit having resistance as its quality, and showed that the current was directly proportional to the electromotive force and inversely as the resistance. Ohm’s law, as it is called, was based upon an analogy with the flow of heat in a circuit, discussed by Fourier. Ohm introduced the definite conception of the distribution along the circuit of “electroscopic force” or tension (Spannung), corresponding to the modern term potential. Ohm verified his law by the aid of thermo-electric piles as sources of electromotive force, and Davy, C. S. M. Pouillet (1791–1868), A. C. Becquerel (1788–1878), G. T. Fechner (1801–1887), R. H. A. Kohlrausch (1809–1858) and others laboured at its confirmation. In more recent times, 1876, it was rigorously tested by G. Chrystal (b. 1851) at Clerk Maxwell’s instigation (see Brit. Assoc. Report, 1876, p. 36), and although at its original enunciation its meaning was not at first fully apprehended, it soon took its place as the expression of the fundamental law of electrokinetics.
Induction of Electric Currents.—In 1831 Faraday began the investigations on electromagnetic induction which proved more fertile in far-reaching practical consequences than any of those which even his genius gave to the world. These advances all centre round his supreme discovery of the induction of electric currents. Fully familiar with the fact that an electric charge upon one conductor could produce a charge of opposite sign upon a neighbouring conductor, Faraday asked himself whether an electric current passing through a conductor could not in any like manner induce an electric current in some neighbouring conductor. His first experiments on this subject were made in the month of November 1825, but it was not until the 29th of August 1831 that he attained success. On that date he had provided himself with an iron ring, over which he had wound two coils of insulated copper wire. One of these coils was connected with the voltaic battery and the other with the galvanometer. He found that at the moment the current in the battery circuit was started or stopped, transitory currents appeared in the galvanometer circuit in opposite directions. In ten days of brilliant investigation, guided by clear insight from the very first into the meaning of the phenomena concerned, he established experimentally the fact that a current may be induced in a conducting circuit simply by the variation in a magnetic field, the lines of force of which are linked with that circuit. The whole of Faraday’s investigations on this subject can be summed up in the single statement that if a conducting circuit is placed in a magnetic field, and if either by variation of the field or by movement or variation of the form of the circuit the total magnetic flux linked with the circuit is varied, an electromotive force is set up in that circuit which at any instant is measured by the rate at which the total flux linked with the circuit is changing.
Amongst the memorable achievements of the ten days which Faraday devoted to this investigation was the discovery that a current could be induced in a conducting wire simply by moving it in the neighbourhood of a magnet. One form which this experiment took was that of rotating a copper disk between the poles of a powerful electric magnet. He then found that a conductor, the ends of which were connected respectively with the centre and edge of the disk, was traversed by an electric current. This important fact laid the foundation for all subsequent inventions which finally led to the production of electromagnetic or dynamo-electric machines.
Third Period.—With this supremely important discovery of Faraday’s we enter upon the third period of electrical research, in which that philosopher himself was the leading figure. He not only collected the facts concerning electromagnetic induction so industriously that nothing of importance remained for future discovery, and embraced them all in one law of exquisite simplicity, but he introduced his famous conception of lines of force which changed entirely the mode of regarding electrical phenomena. The French mathematicians, Coulomb, Biot, Poisson and Ampère, had been content to accept the fact that electric charges or currents in conductors could exert forces on other charges or conductors at a distance without inquiring into the means by which this action at a distance was produced. Faraday’s mind, however, revolted against this notion; he felt intuitively that these distance actions must be the result of unseen operations in the interposed medium. Accordingly when he sprinkled iron filings on a card held over a magnet and revealed the curvilinear system of lines of force (see Magnetism), he regarded these fragments of iron as simple indicators of a physical state in the space already in existence round the magnet. To him a magnet was not simply a bar of steel; it was the core and origin of a system of lines of magnetic force attached to it and moving with it. Similarly he came to see an electrified body as a centre of a system of lines of electrostatic force. All the space round magnets, currents and electric charges was therefore to Faraday the seat of corresponding lines of magnetic or electric force. He proved by systematic experiments that the electromotive forces set up in conductors by their motions in magnetic fields or by the induction of other currents in the field were due to the secondary conductor cutting lines of magnetic force. He invented the term “electrotonic state” to signify the total magnetic flux due to a conductor conveying a current, which was linked with any secondary circuit in the field or even with itself.
Faraday’s Researches.—Space compels us to limit our account of the scientific work done by Faraday in the succeeding twenty years, in elucidating electrical phenomena and adding to the knowledge thereon, to the very briefest mention. We must refer the reader for further information to his monumental work entitled Experimental Researches on Electricity, in three volumes, reprinted from the Phil. Trans. between 1831 and 1851. Faraday divided these researches into various series. The 1st and 2nd concern the discovery of magneto-electric induction already mentioned. The 3rd series (1833) he devoted to discussion of the identity of electricity derived from various sources, frictional, voltaic, animal and thermal, and he proved by rigorous experiments the identity and similarity in properties of the electricity generated by these various methods. The 5th series (1833) is occupied with his electrochemical researches. In the 7th series (1834) he defines a number of new terms, such as electrolyte, electrolysis, anode and cathode, &c., in connexion with electrolytic phenomena, which were immediately adopted into the vocabulary of science. His most important contribution at this date was the invention of the voltameter and his enunciation of the laws of electrolysis. The voltameter provided a means of measuring quantity of electricity, and in the hands of Faraday and his successors became an appliance of fundamental importance. The 8th series is occupied with a discussion of the theory of the voltaic pile, in which Faraday accumulates evidence to prove that the source of the energy of the pile must be chemical. He returns also to this subject in the 16th series. In the 9th series (1834) he announced the discovery of the important property of electric conductors, since called their self-induction or inductance, a discovery in which, however, he was anticipated by Joseph Henry in the United States. The 11th series (1837) deals with electrostatic induction and the statement of the important fact of the specific inductive capacity of insulators or dielectrics. This discovery was made in November 1837 when Faraday had no knowledge of Cavendish’s previous researches into this matter. The 19th series (1845) contains an account of his brilliant discovery of the rotation of the plane of polarized light by transparent dielectrics placed in a magnetic field, a relation which established for the first time a practical connexion between the phenomena of electricity and light. The 20th series (1845) contains an account of his researches on the universal action of magnetism and diamagnetic bodies. The 22nd series (1848) is occupied with the discussion of magneto-crystallic force and the abnormal behaviour of various crystals in a magnetic field. In the 25th series (1850) he made known his discovery of the magnetic character of oxygen gas, and the important principle that the terms paramagnetic and diamagnetic are relative. In the 26th series (1850) he returned to a discussion of magnetic lines of force, and illuminated the whole subject of the magnetic circuit by his transcendent insight into the intricate phenomena concerned. In 1855 he brought these researches to a conclusion by a general article on magnetic philosophy, having placed the whole subject of magnetism and electromagnetism on an entirely novel and solid basis. In addition to this he provided the means for studying the phenomena not only qualitatively, but also quantitatively, by the profoundly ingenious instruments he invented for that purpose.
Electrical Measurement.—Faraday’s ideas thus pressed upon electricians the necessity for the quantitative measurement of electrical phenomena. It has been already mentioned that Schweigger invented in 1820 the “multiplier,” and Nobili in 1825 the astatic galvanometer. C. S. M. Pouillet in 1837 contributed the sine and tangent compass, and W. E. Weber effected great improvements in them and in the construction and use of galvanometers. In 1849 H. von Helmholtz devised a tangent galvanometer with two coils. The measurement of electric resistance then engaged the attention of electricians. By his Memoirs in the Phil. Trans. in 1843, Sir Charles Wheatstone gave a great impulse to this study. He invented the rheostat and improved the resistance balance, invented by S. H. Christie (1784–1865) in 1833, and subsequently called the Wheatstone Bridge. (See his Scientific Papers, published by the Physical Society of London, p. 129.) Weber about this date invented the electrodynamometer, and applied the mirror and scale method of reading deflections, and in co-operation with C. F. Gauss introduced a system of absolute measurement of electric and magnetic phenomena. In 1846 Weber proceeded with improved apparatus to test Ampère’s laws of electrodynamics. In 1845 H. G. Grassmann (1809–1877) published (Pogg. Ann. vol. 64) his “Neue Theorie der Electrodynamik,” in which he gave an elementary law differing from that of Ampère but leading to the same results for closed circuits. In the same year F. E. Neumann published another law. In 1846 Weber announced his famous hypothesis concerning the connexion of electrostatic and electrodynamic phenomena. The work of Neumann and Weber had been stimulated by that of H. F. E. Lenz (1804–1865), whose researches (Pogg. Ann., 1834, 31; 1835, 34) among other results led him to the statement of the law by means of which the direction of the induced current can be predicted from the theory of Ampère, the rule being that the direction of the induced current is always such that its electrodynamic action tends to oppose the motion which produces it.
Neumann in 1845 did for electromagnetic induction what Ampère did for electrodynamics, basing his researches upon the experimental laws of Lenz. He discovered a function, which has been called the potential of one circuit on another, from which he deduced a theory of induction completely in accordance with experiment. Weber at the same time deduced the mathematical laws of induction from his elementary law of electrical action, and with his improved instruments arrived at accurate verifications of the law of induction, which by this time had been developed mathematically by Neumann and himself. In 1849 G. R. Kirchhoff determined experimentally in a certain case the absolute value of the current induced by one circuit in another, and in the same year Erik Edland (1819–1888) made a series of careful experiments on the induction of electric currents which further established received theories. These labours laid the foundation on which was subsequently erected a complete system for the absolute measurement of electric and magnetic quantities, referring them all to the fundamental units of mass, length and time. Helmholtz gave at the same time a mathematical theory of induced currents and a valuable series of experiments in support of them (Pogg. Ann., 1851). This great investigator and luminous expositor just before that time had published his celebrated essay, Die Erhaltung der Kraft (“The Conservation of Energy”), which brought to a focus ideas which had been accumulating in consequence of the work of J. P. Joule, J. R. von Mayer and others, on the transformation of various forms of physical energy, and in particular the mechanical equivalent of heat. Helmholtz brought to bear upon the subject not only the most profound mathematical attainments, but immense experimental skill, and his work in connexion with this subject is classical.
Lord Kelvin’s Work.—About 1842 Lord Kelvin (then William Thomson) began that long career of theoretical and practical discovery and invention in electrical science which revolutionized every department of pure and applied electricity. His early contributions to electrostatics and electrometry are to be found described in his Reprint of Papers on Electrostatics and Magnetism (1872), and his later work in his collected Mathematical and Physical Papers. By his studies in electrostatics, his elegant method of electrical images, his development of the theory of potential and application of the principle of conservation of energy, as well as by his inventions in connexion with electrometry, he laid the foundations of our modern knowledge of electrostatics. His work on the electrodynamic qualities of metals, thermo-electricity, and his contributions to galvanometry, were not less massive and profound. From 1842 onwards to the end of the 19th century, he was one of the great master workers in the field of electrical discovery and research. In 1853 he published a paper “On Transient Electric Currents” (Phil. Mag., 1853 , 5, p. 393), in which he applied the principle of the conservation of energy to the discharge of a Leyden jar. He added definiteness to the idea of the self-induction or inductance of an electric circuit, and gave a mathematical expression for the current flowing out of a Leyden jar during its discharge. He confirmed an opinion already previously expressed by Helmholtz and by Henry, that in some circumstances this discharge is oscillatory in nature, consisting of an alternating electric current of high frequency. These theoretical predictions were confirmed and others, subsequently, by the work of B. W. Feddersen (b. 1832), C. A. Paalzow (b. 1823), and it was then seen that the familiar phenomena of the discharge of a Leyden jar provided the means of generating electric oscillations of very high frequency.
Telegraphy.—Turning to practical applications of electricity, we may note that electric telegraphy took its rise in 1820, beginning with a suggestion of Ampère immediately after Oersted’s discovery. It was established by the work of Weber and Gauss at Göttingen in 1836, and that of C. A. Steinheil (1801–1870) of Munich, Sir W. F. Cooke (1806–1879) and Sir C. Wheatstone in England, Joseph Henry and S. F. B. Morse (1791–1872) in the United States in 1837. In 1845 submarine telegraphy was inaugurated by the laying of an insulated conductor across the English Channel by the brothers Brett, and their temporary success was followed by the laying in 1851 of a permanent Dover-Calais cable by T. R. Crampton. In 1856 the project for an Atlantic submarine cable took shape and the Atlantic Telegraph Company was formed with a capital of £350,000, with Sir Charles Bright as engineer-in-chief and E. O. W. Whitehouse as electrician. The phenomena connected with the propagation of electric signals by underground insulated wires had already engaged the attention of Faraday in 1854, who pointed out the Leyden-jar-like action of an insulated subterranean wire. Scientific and practical questions connected with the possibility of laying an Atlantic submarine cable then began to be discussed, and Lord Kelvin was foremost in developing true scientific knowledge on this subject, and in the invention of appliances for utilizing it. One of his earliest and most useful contributions (in 1858) was the invention of the mirror galvanometer. Abandoning the long and somewhat heavy magnetic needles that had been used up to that date in galvanometers, he attached to the back of a very small mirror made of microscopic glass a fragment of magnetized watch-spring, and suspended the mirror and needle by means of a cocoon fibre in the centre of a coil of insulated wire. By this simple device he provided a means of measuring small electric currents far in advance of anything yet accomplished, and this instrument proved not only most useful in pure scientific researches, but at the same time was of the utmost value in connexion with submarine telegraphy. The history of the initial failures and final success in laying the Atlantic cable has been well told by Mr. Charles Bright (see The Story of the Atlantic Cable, London, 1903). The first cable laid in 1857 broke on the 11th of August during laying. The second attempt in 1858 was successful, but the cable completed on the 5th of August 1858 broke down on the 20th of October 1858, after 732 messages had passed through it. The third cable laid in 1865 was lost on the 2nd of August 1865, but in 1866 a final success was attained and the 1865 cable also recovered and completed. Lord Kelvin’s mirror galvanometer was first used in receiving signals through the short-lived 1858 cable. In 1867 he invented his beautiful siphon-recorder for receiving and recording the signals through long cables. Later, in conjunction with Prof. Fleeming Jenkin, he devised his automatic curb sender, an appliance for sending signals by means of punched telegraphic paper tape. Lord Kelvin’s contributions to the science of exact electric measurement were enormous. His ampere-balances, voltmeters and electrometers, and double bridge, are elsewhere described in detail (see Amperemeter; Electrometer, and Wheatstone’s Bridge).
Dynamo.—The work of Faraday from 1831 to 1851 stimulated and originated an immense mass of scientific research, but at the same time practical inventors had not been slow to perceive that it was capable of purely technical application. Faraday’s copper disk rotated between the poles of a magnet, and producing thereby an electric current, became the parent of innumerable machines in which mechanical energy was directly converted into the energy of electric currents. Of these machines, originally called magneto-electric machines, one of the first was devised in 1832 by H. Pixii. It consisted of a fixed horseshoe armature wound over with insulated copper wire in front of which revolved about a vertical axis a horseshoe magnet. Pixii, who invented the split tube commutator for converting the alternating current so produced into a continuous current in the external circuit, was followed by J. Saxton, E. M. Clarke, and many others in the development of the above-described magneto-electric machine. In 1857 E. W. Siemens effected a great improvement by inventing a shuttle armature and improving the shape of the field magnet. Subsequently similar machines with electromagnets were introduced by Henry Wilde (b. 1833), Siemens, Wheatstone, W. Ladd and others, and the principle of self-excitation was suggested by Wilde, C. F. Varley (1828–1883), Siemens and Wheatstone (see Dynamo). These machines about 1866 and 1867 began to be constructed on a commercial scale and were employed in the production of the electric light. The discovery of electric-current induction also led to the production of the induction coil (q.v.), improved and brought to its present perfection by W. Sturgeon, E. R. Ritchie, N. J. Callan, H. D. Rühmkorff (1803–1877), A. H. L. Fizeau, and more recently by A. Apps and modern inventors. About the same time Fizeau and J. B. L. Foucault devoted attention to the invention of automatic apparatus for the production of Davy’s electric arc (see Lighting: Electric), and these appliances in conjunction with magneto-electric machines were soon employed in lighthouse work. With the advent of large magneto-electric machines the era of electrotechnics was fairly entered, and this period, which may be said to terminate about 1867 to 1869, was consummated by the theoretical work of Clerk Maxwell.
Maxwell’s Researches.—James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879) entered on his electrical studies with a desire to ascertain if the ideas of Faraday, so different from those of Poisson and the French mathematicians, could be made the foundation of a mathematical method and brought under the power of analysis. Maxwell started with the conception that all electric and magnetic phenomena are due to effects taking place in the dielectric or in the ether if the space be vacuous. The phenomena of light had compelled physicists to postulate a space-filling medium, to which the name ether had been given, and Henry and Faraday had long previously suggested the idea of an electromagnetic medium. The vibrations of this medium constitute the agency called light. Maxwell saw that it was unphilosophical to assume a multiplicity of ethers or media until it had been proved that one would not fulfil all the requirements. He formulated the conception, therefore, of electric charge as consisting in a displacement taking place in the dielectric or electromagnetic medium (see Electrostatics). Maxwell never committed himself to a precise definition of the physical nature of electric displacement, but considered it as defining that which Faraday had called the polarization in the insulator, or, what is equivalent, the number of lines of electrostatic force passing normally through a unit of area in the dielectric. A second fundamental conception of Maxwell was that the electric displacement whilst it is changing is in effect an electric current, and creates, therefore, magnetic force. The total current at any point in a dielectric must be considered as made up of two parts: first, the true conduction current, if it exists; and second, the rate of change of dielectric displacement. The fundamental fact connecting electric currents and magnetic fields is that the line integral of magnetic force taken once round a conductor conveying an electric current is equal to 4 -times the surface integral of the current density, or to 4 -times the total current flowing through the closed line round which the integral is taken (see Electrokinetics). A second relation connecting magnetic and electric force is based upon Faraday’s fundamental law of induction, that the rate of change of the total magnetic flux linked with a conductor is a measure of the electromotive force created in it (see Electrokinetics). Maxwell also introduced in this connexion the notion of the vector potential. Coupling together these ideas he was finally enabled to prove that the propagation of electric and magnetic force takes place through space with a certain velocity determined by the dielectric constant and the magnetic permeability of the medium. To take a simple instance, if we consider an electric current as flowing in a conductor it is, as Oersted discovered, surrounded by closed lines of magnetic force. If we imagine the current in the conductor to be instantaneously reversed in direction, the magnetic force surrounding it would not be instantly reversed everywhere in direction, but the reversal would be propagated outwards through space with a certain velocity which Maxwell showed was inversely as the square root of the product of the magnetic permeability and the dielectric constant or specific inductive capacity of the medium.
These great results were announced by him for the first time in a paper presented in 1864 to the Royal Society of London and printed in the Phil. Trans. for 1865, entitled “A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field.” Maxwell showed in this paper that the velocity of propagation of an electromagnetic impulse through space could also be determined by certain experimental methods which consisted in measuring the same electric quantity, capacity, resistance or potential in two ways. W. E. Weber had already laid the foundations of the absolute system of electric and magnetic measurement, and proved that a quantity of electricity could be measured either by the force it exercises upon another static or stationary quantity of electricity, or magnetically by the force this quantity of electricity exercises upon a magnetic pole when flowing through a neighbouring conductor. The two systems of measurement were called respectively the electrostatic and the electromagnetic systems (see Units, Physical). Maxwell suggested new methods for the determination of this ratio of the electrostatic to the electromagnetic units, and by experiments of great ingenuity was able to show that this ratio, which is also that of the velocity of the propagation of an electromagnetic impulse through space, is identical with that of light. This great fact once ascertained, it became clear that the notion that electric phenomena are affections of the luminiferous ether was no longer a mere speculation but a scientific theory capable of verification. An immediate deduction from Maxwell’s theory was that in transparent dielectrics, the dielectric constant or specific inductive capacity should be numerically equal to the square of the refractive index for very long electric waves. At the time when Maxwell developed his theory the dielectric constants of only a few transparent insulators were known and these were for the most part measured with steady or unidirectional electromotive force. The only refractive indices which had been measured were the optical refractive indices of a number of transparent substances. Maxwell made a comparison between the optical refractive index and the dielectric constant of paraffin wax, and the approximation between the numerical values of the square of the first and that of the last was sufficient to show that there was a basis for further work. Maxwell’s electric and magnetic ideas were gathered together in a great mathematical treatise on electricity and magnetism which was published in 1873. This book stimulated in a most remarkable degree theoretical and practical research into the phenomena of electricity and magnetism. Experimental methods were devised for the further exact measurements of the electromagnetic velocity and numerous determinations of the dielectric constants of various solids, liquids and gases, and comparisons of these with the corresponding optical refractive indices were conducted. This early work indicated that whilst there were a number of cases in which the square of optical refractive index for long waves and the dielectric constant of the same substance were sufficiently close to afford an apparent confirmation of Maxwell’s theory, yet in other cases there were considerable divergencies. L. Boltzmann (1844–1907) made a large number of determinations for solids and for gases, and the dielectric constants of many solid and liquid substances were determined by N. N. Schiller (b. 1848), P. A. Silow (b. 1850), J. Hopkinson and others. The accumulating determinations of the numerical value of the electromagnetic velocity (v) from the earliest made by Lord Kelvin (Sir W. Thomson) with the aid of King and McKichan, or those of Clerk Maxwell, W. E. Ayrton and J. Perry, to more recent ones by J. J. Thomson, F. Himstedt, H. A. Rowland, E. B. Rosa, J. S. H. Pellat and H. A. Abraham, showed it to be very close to the best determinations of the velocity of light (see Units, Physical). On the other hand, the divergence in some cases between the square of the optical refractive index and the dielectric constant was very marked. Hence although Maxwell’s theory of electrical action when first propounded found many adherents in Great Britain, it did not so much dominate opinion on the continent of Europe.
Fourth Period.—With the publication of Clerk Maxwell’s treatise in 1873, we enter fully upon the fourth and modern period of electrical research. On the technical side the invention of a new form of armature for dynamo electric machines by Z. T. Gramme (1826–1901) inaugurated a departure from which we may date modern electrical engineering. It will be convenient to deal with technical development first.
Technical Development.—As far back as 1841 large magneto-electric machines driven by steam power had been constructed, and in 1856 F. H. Holmes had made a magneto machine with multiple permanent magnets which was installed in 1862 in Dungeness lighthouse. Further progress was made in 1867 when H. Wilde introduced the use of electromagnets for the field magnets. In 1860 Dr Antonio Pacinotti invented what is now called the toothed ring winding for armatures and described it in an Italian journal, but it attracted little notice until reinvented in 1870 by Gramme. In this new form of bobbin, the armature consisted of a ring of iron wire wound over with an endless coil of wire and connected to a commutator consisting of copper bars insulated from one another. Gramme dynamos were then soon made on the self-exciting principle. In 1873 at Vienna the fact was discovered that a dynamo machine of the Gramme type could also act as an electric motor and was set in rotation when a current was passed into it from another similar machine. Henceforth the electric transmission of power came within the possibilities of engineering.
Electric Lighting.—In 1876, Paul Jablochkov (1847–1894), a Russian officer, passing through Paris, invented his famous electric candle, consisting of two rods of carbon placed side by side and separated from one another by an insulating material. This invention in conjunction with an alternating current dynamo provided a new and simple form of electric arc lighting. Two years afterwards C. F. Brush, in the United States, produced another efficient form of dynamo and electric arc lamp suitable for working in series (see Lighting: Electric), and these inventions of Brush and Jablochkov inaugurated commercial arc lighting. The so-called subdivision of electric light by incandescent lighting lamps then engaged attention. E. A. King in 1845 and W. E. Staite in 1848 had made incandescent electric lamps of an elementary form, and T. A. Edison in 1878 again attacked the problem of producing light by the incandescence of platinum. It had by that time become clear that the most suitable material for an incandescent lamp was carbon contained in a good vacuum, and St G. Lane Fox and Sir J. W. Swan in England, and T. A. Edison in the United States, were engaged in struggling with the difficulties of producing a suitable carbon incandescence electric lamp. Edison constructed in 1879 a successful lamp of this type consisting of a vessel wholly of glass containing a carbon filament made by carbonizing paper or some other carbonizable material, the vessel being exhausted and the current led into the filament through platinum wires. In 1879 and 1880, Edison in the United States, and Swan in conjunction with C. H. Stearn in England, succeeded in completely solving the practical problems. From and after that date incandescent electric lighting became commercially possible, and was brought to public notice chiefly by an electrical exhibition held at the Crystal Palace, near London, in 1882. Edison, moreover, as well as Lane-Fox, had realized the idea of a public electric supply station, and the former proceeded to establish in Pearl Street, New York, in 1881, the first public electric supply station. A similar station in England was opened in the basement of a house in Holborn Viaduct, London, in March 1882. Edison, with copious ingenuity, devised electric meters, electric mains, lamp fittings and generators complete for the purpose. In 1881 C. A. Faure made an important improvement in the lead secondary battery which G. Planté (1834–1889) had invented in 1859, and storage batteries then began to be developed as commercial appliances by Faure, Swan, J. S. Sellon and many others (see Accumulator). In 1882, numerous electric lighting companies were formed for the conduct of public and private lighting, but an electric lighting act passed in that year greatly hindered commercial progress in Great Britain. Nevertheless the delay was utilized in the completion of inventions necessary for the safe and economical distribution of electric current for the purpose of electric lighting.
Telephone.—Going back a few years we find the technical applications of electrical invention had developed themselves in other directions. Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 invented the speaking telephone (q.v.), and Edison and Elisha Gray in the United States followed almost immediately with other telephonic inventions for electrically transmitting speech. About the same time D. E. Hughes in England invented the microphone. In 1879 telephone exchanges began to be developed in the United States, Great Britain and other countries.
Electric Power.—Following on the discovery in 1873 of the reversible action of the dynamo and its use as a motor, efforts began to be made to apply this knowledge to transmission of power, and S. D. Field, T. A. Edison, Leo Daft, E. M. Bentley and W. H. Knight, F. J. Sprague, C. J. Van Depoele and others between 1880 and 1884 were the pioneers of electric traction. One of the earliest electric tram cars was exhibited by E. W. and W. Siemens in Paris in 1881. In 1883 Lucien Gaulard, following a line of thought opened by Jablochkov, proposed to employ high pressure alternating currents for electric distributions over wide areas by means of transformers. His ideas were improved by Carl Zipernowsky and O. T. Bláthy in Hungary and by S. Z. de Ferranti in England, and the alternating current transformer (see Transformers) came into existence. Polyphase alternators were first exhibited at the Frankfort electrical exhibition in 1891, developed as a consequence of scientific researches by Galileo Ferraris (1847–1897), Nikola Tesla, M. O. von Dolivo-Dobrowolsky and C. E. L. Brown, and long distance transmission of electrical power by polyphase electrical currents (see Power Transmission: Electric) was exhibited in operation at Frankfort in 1891. Meanwhile the early continuous current dynamos devised by Gramme, Siemens and others had been vastly improved in scientific principle and practical construction by the labours of Siemens, J. Hopkinson, R. E. B. Crompton, Elihu Thomson, Rudolf Eickemeyer, Thomas Parker and others, and the theory of the action of the dynamo had been closely studied by J. and E. Hopkinson, G. Kapp, S. P. Thompson, C. P. Steinmetz and J. Swinburne, and great improvements made in the alternating current dynamo by W. M. Mordey, S. Z. de Ferranti and Messrs Ganz of Budapest. Thus in twenty years from the invention of the Gramme dynamo, electrical engineering had developed from small beginnings into a vast industry. The amendment, in 1888, of the Electric Lighting Act of 1882, before long caused a huge development of public electric lighting in Great Britain. By the end of the 19th century every large city in Europe and in North and South America was provided with a public electric supply for the purposes of electric lighting. The various improvements in electric illuminants, such as the Nernst oxide lamp, the tantalum and osmium incandescent lamps, and improved forms of arc lamp, enclosed, inverted and flame arcs, are described under Lighting: Electric.
Between 1890 and 1900, electric traction advanced rapidly in the United States of America but more slowly in England. In 1902 the success of deep tube electric railways in Great Britain was assured, and in 1904 main line railways began to abandon, at least experimentally, the steam locomotive and substitute for it the electric transmission of power. Long distance electrical transmission had been before that time exemplified in the great scheme of utilizing the falls of Niagara. The first projects were discussed in 1891 and 1892 and completed practically some ten years later. In this scheme large turbines were placed at the bottom of hydraulic fall tubes 150 ft. deep, the turbines being coupled by long shafts with 5000 H.P. alternating current dynamos on the surface. By these electric current was generated and transmitted to towns and factories around, being sent overhead as far as Buffalo, a distance of 18 m. At the end of the 19th century electrochemical industries began to be developed which depended on the possession of cheap electric energy. The production of aluminium in Switzerland and Scotland, carborundum and calcium carbide in the United States, and soda by the Castner-Kellner process, began to be conducted on an immense scale. The early work of Sir W. Siemens on the electric furnace was continued and greatly extended by Henri Moissan and others on its scientific side, and electrochemistry took its place as one of the most promising departments of technical research and invention. It was stimulated and assisted by improvements in the construction of large dynamos and increased knowledge concerning the control of powerful electric currents.
In the early part of the 20th century the distribution in bulk of electric energy for power purposes in Great Britain began to assume important proportions. It was seen to be uneconomical for each city and town to manufacture its own supply since, owing to the intermittent nature of the demand for current for lighting, the price had to be kept up to 4d. and 6d. per unit. It was found that by the manufacture in bulk, even by steam engines, at primary centres the cost could be considerably reduced, and in numerous districts in England large power stations began to be erected between 1903 and 1905 for the supply of current for power purposes. This involved almost a revolution in the nature of the tools used, and in the methods of working, and may ultimately even greatly affect the factory system and the concentration of population in large towns which was brought about in the early part of the 19th century by the invention of the steam engine.
Development of Electric Theory.
Turning now to the theory of electricity, we may note the equally remarkable progress made in 300 years in scientific insight into the nature of the agency which has so recast the face of human society. There is no need to dwell upon the early crude theories of the action of amber and lodestone. In a true scientific sense no hypothesis was possible, because few facts had been accumulated. The discoveries of Stephen Gray and C. F. de C. du Fay on the conductivity of some bodies for the electric agency and the dual character of electrification gave rise to the first notions of electricity as an imponderable fluid, or non-gravitative subtile matter, of a more refined and penetrating kind than ordinary liquids and gases. Its duplex character, and the fact that the electricity produced by rubbing glass and vitreous substances was different from that produced by rubbing sealing-wax and resinous substances, seemed to necessitate the assumption of two kinds of electric fluid; hence there arose the conception of positive and negative electricity, and the two-fluid theory came into existence.
Single-fluid Theory.—The study of the phenomena of the Leyden jar and of the fact that the inside and outside coatings possessed opposite electricities, so that in charging the jar as much positive electricity is added to one side as negative to the other, led Franklin about 1750 to suggest a modification called the single fluid theory, in which the two states of electrification were regarded as not the results of two entirely different fluids but of the addition or subtraction of one electric fluid from matter, so that positive electrification was to be looked upon as the result of increase or addition of something to ordinary matter and negative as a subtraction. The positive and negative electrifications of the two coatings of the Leyden jar were therefore to be regarded as the result of a transformation of something called electricity from one coating to the other, by which process a certain measurable quantity became so much less on one side by the same amount by which it became more on the other. A modification of this single fluid theory was put forward by F. U. T. Aepinus which was explained and illustrated in his Tentamen theoriae electricitatis et magnetismi, published in St Petersburg in 1759. This theory was founded on the following principles:—(1) the particles of the electric fluid repel each other with a force decreasing as the distance increases; (2) the particles of the electric fluid attract the atoms of all bodies and are attracted by them with a force obeying the same law; (3) the electric fluid exists in the pores of all bodies, and while it moves without any obstruction in conductors such as metals, water, &c., it moves with extreme difficulty in so-called non-conductors such as glass, resin, &c.; (4) electrical phenomena are produced either by the transference of the electric fluid of a body containing more to one containing less, or from its attraction and repulsion when no transference takes place. Electric attractions and repulsions were, however, regarded as differential actions in which the mutual repulsion of the particles of electricity operated, so to speak, in antagonism to the mutual attraction of particles of matter for one another and of particles of electricity for matter. Independently of Aepinus, Henry Cavendish put forward a single-fluid theory of electricity (Phil. Trans., 1771, 61, p. 584), in which he considered it in more precise detail.
Two-fluid Theory.—In the elucidation of electrical phenomena, however, towards the end of the 18th century, a modification of the two-fluid theory seems to have been generally preferred. The notion then formed of the nature of electrification was something as follows:—All bodies were assumed to contain a certain quantity of a so-called neutral fluid made up of equal quantities of positive and negative electricity, which when in this state of combination neutralized one another’s properties. The neutral fluid could, however, be divided up or separated into its two constituents, and these could be accumulated on separate conductors or non-conductors. This view followed from the discovery of the facts of electric induction of J. Canton (1753, 1754). When, for instance, a positively electrified body was found to induce upon another insulated conductor a charge of negative electricity on the side nearest to it, and a charge of positive electricity on the side farthest from it, this was explained by saying that the particles of each of the two electric fluids repelled one another but attracted those of the positive fluid. Hence the operation of the positive charge upon the neutral fluid was to draw towards the positive the negative constituent of the neutral charge and repel to the distant parts of the conductor the positive constituent.
C. A. Coulomb experimentally proved that the law of attraction and repulsion of simple electrified bodies was that the force between them varied inversely as the square of the distance and thus gave mathematical definiteness to the two-fluid hypothesis. It was then assumed that each of the two constituents of the neutral fluid had an atomic structure and that the so-called particles of one of the electric fluids, say positive, repelled similar particles with a force varying inversely as a square of the distance and attracted those of the opposite fluid according to the same law. This fact and hypothesis brought electrical phenomena within the domain of mathematical analysis and, as already mentioned, Laplace, Biot, Poisson, G. A. A. Plana (1781–1846), and later Robert Murphy (1806–1843), made them the subject of their investigations on the mode in which electricity distributes itself on conductors when in equilibrium.
Faraday’s Views.—The two-fluid theory may be said to have held the field until the time when Faraday began his researches on electricity. After he had educated himself by the study of the phenomena of lines of magnetic force in his discoveries on electromagnetic induction, he applied the same conception to electrostatic phenomena, and thus created the notion of lines of electrostatic force and of the important function of the dielectric or non-conductor in sustaining them. Faraday’s notion as to the nature of electrification, therefore, about the middle of the 19th century came to be something as follows:—He considered that the so-called charge of electricity on a conductor was in reality nothing on the conductor or in the conductor itself, but consisted in a state of strain or polarization, or a physical change of some kind in the particles of the dielectric surrounding the conductor, and that it was this physical state in the dielectric which constituted electrification. Since Faraday was well aware that even a good vacuum can act as a dielectric, he recognized that the state he called dielectric polarization could not be wholly dependent upon the presence of gravitative matter, but that there must be an electromagnetic medium of a supermaterial nature. In the 13th series of his Experimental Researches on Electricity he discussed the relation of a vacuum to electricity. Furthermore his electrochemical investigations, and particularly his discovery of the important law of electrolysis, that the movement of a certain quantity of electricity through an electrolyte is always accompanied by the transfer of a certain definite quantity of matter from one electrode to another and the liberation at these electrodes of an equivalent weight of the ions, gave foundation for the idea of a definite atomic charge of electricity. In fact, long previously to Faraday’s electrochemical researches, Sir H. Davy and J. J. Berzelius early in the 19th century had advanced the hypothesis that chemical combination was due to electric attractions between the electric charges carried by chemical atoms. The notion, however, that electricity is atomic in structure was definitely put forward by Hermann von Helmholtz in a well-known Faraday lecture. Helmholtz says: “If we accept the hypothesis that elementary substances are composed of atoms, we cannot well avoid concluding that electricity also is divided into elementary portions which behave like atoms of electricity.” Clerk Maxwell had already used in 1873 the phrase, “a molecule of electricity.” Towards the end of the third quarter of the 19th century it therefore became clear that electricity, whatever be its nature, was associated with atoms of matter in the form of exact multiples of an indivisible minimum electric charge which may be considered to be “Nature’s unit of electricity.” This ultimate unit of electric quantity Professor Johnstone Stoney called an electron. The formulation of electrical theory as far as regards operations in space free from matter was immensely assisted by Maxwell’s mathematical theory. Oliver Heaviside after 1880 rendered much assistance by reducing Maxwell’s mathematical analysis to more compact form and by introducing greater precision into terminology (see his Electrical Papers, 1892). This is perhaps the place to refer also to the great services of Lord Rayleigh to electrical science. Succeeding Maxwell as Cavendish professor of physics at Cambridge in 1880, he soon devoted himself especially to the exact redetermination of the practical electrical units in absolute measure. He followed up the early work of the British Association Committee on electrical units by a fresh determination of the ohm in absolute measure, and in conjunction with other work on the electrochemical equivalent of silver and the absolute electromotive force of the Clark cell may be said to have placed exact electrical measurement on a new basis. He also made great additions to the theory of alternating electric currents, and provided fresh appliances for other electrical measurements (see his Collected Scientific Papers, Cambridge, 1900).
Electro-optics.—For a long time Faraday’s observation on the rotation of the plane of polarized light by heavy glass in a magnetic field remained an isolated fact in electro-optics. Then M. E. Verdet (1824–1860) made a study of the subject and discovered that a solution of ferric perchloride in methyl alcohol rotated the plane of polarization in an opposite direction to heavy glass (Ann. Chim. Phys., 1854, 41, p. 370; 1855, 43, p. 37; Com. Rend., 1854, 39, p. 548). Later A. A. E. E. Kundt prepared metallic films of iron, nickel and cobalt, and obtained powerful negative optical rotation with them (Wied. Ann., 1884, 23, p. 228; 1886, 27, p. 191). John Kerr (1824–1907) discovered that a similar effect was produced when plane polarized light was reflected from the pole of a powerful magnet (Phil. Mag., 1877, , 3, p. 321, and 1878, 5, p. 161). Lord Kelvin showed that Faraday’s discovery demonstrated that some form of rotation was taking place along lines of magnetic force when passing through a medium. Many observers have given attention to the exact determination of Verdet’s constant of rotation for standard substances, e.g. Lord Rayleigh for carbon bisulphide, and Sir W. H. Perkin for an immense range of inorganic and organic bodies. Kerr also discovered that when certain homogeneous dielectrics were submitted to electric strain, they became birefringent (Phil. Mag., 1875, 50, pp. 337 and 446). The theory of electro-optics received great attention from Kelvin, Maxwell, Rayleigh, G. F. Fitzgerald, A. Righi and P. K. L. Drude, and experimental contributions from innumerable workers, such as F. T. Trouton, O. J. Lodge and J. L. Howard, and many others.
Electric Waves.—In the decade 1880–1890, the most important advance in electrical physics was, however, that which originated with the astonishing researches of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (1857–1894). This illustrious investigator was stimulated, by a certain problem brought to his notice by H. von Helmholtz, to undertake investigations which had for their object a demonstration of the truth of Maxwell’s principle that a variation in electric displacement was in fact an electric current and had magnetic effects. It is impossible to describe here the details of these elaborate experiments; the reader must be referred to Hertz’s own papers, or the English translation of them by Prof. D. E. Jones. Hertz’s great discovery was an experimental realization of a suggestion made by G. F. Fitzgerald (1851–1901) in 1883 as to a method of producing electric waves in space. He invented for this purpose a radiator consisting of two metal rods placed in one line, their inner ends being provided with poles nearly touching and their outer ends with metal plates. Such an arrangement constitutes in effect a condenser, and when the two plates respectively are connected to the secondary terminals of an induction coil in operation, the plates are rapidly and alternately charged, and discharged across the spark gap with electrical oscillations (see Electrokinetics). Hertz then devised a wave detecting apparatus called a resonator. This in its simplest form consisted of a ring of wire nearly closed terminating in spark balls very close together, adjustable as to distance by a micrometer screw. He found that when the resonator was placed in certain positions with regard to the oscillator, small sparks were seen between the micrometer balls, and when the oscillator was placed at one end of a room having a sheet of zinc fixed against the wall at the other end, symmetrical positions could be found in the room at which, when the resonator was there placed, either no sparks or else very bright sparks occurred at the poles. These effects, as Hertz showed, indicated the establishment of stationary electric waves in space and the propagation of electric and magnetic force through space with a finite velocity. The other additional phenomena he observed finally contributed an all but conclusive proof of the truth of Maxwell’s views. By profoundly ingenious methods Hertz showed that these invisible electric waves could be reflected and refracted like waves of light by mirrors and prisms, and that familiar experiments in optics could be repeated with electric waves which could not affect the eye. Hence there arose a new science of electro-optics, and in all parts of Europe and the United States innumerable investigators took possession of the novel field of research with the greatest delight. O. J. Lodge, A. Righi, J. H. Poincaré, V. F. K. Bjerknes, P. K. L. Drude, J. J. Thomson, John Trowbridge, Max Abraham, and many others, contributed to its elucidation.
In 1892, E. Branly of Paris devised an appliance for detecting these waves which subsequently proved to be of immense importance. He discovered that they had the power of affecting the electric conductivity of materials when in a state of powder, the majority of metallic filings increasing in conductivity. Lodge devised a similar arrangement called a coherer, and E. Rutherford invented a magnetic detector depending on the power of electric oscillations to demagnetize iron or steel. The sum total of all these contributions to electrical knowledge had the effect of establishing Maxwell’s principles on a firm basis, but they also led to technical inventions of the very greatest utility. In 1896 G. Marconi applied a modified and improved form of Branly’s wave detector in conjunction with a novel form of radiator for the telegraphic transmission of intelligence through space without wires, and he and others developed this new form of telegraphy with the greatest rapidity and success into a startling and most useful means of communicating through space electrically without connecting wires.
Electrolysis.—The study of the transfer of electricity through liquids had meanwhile received much attention. The general facts and laws of electrolysis (q.v.) were determined experimentally by Davy and Faraday and confirmed by the researches of J. F. Daniell, R. W. Bunsen and Helmholtz. The modern theory of electrolysis grew up under the hands of R. J. E. Clausius, A. W. Williamson and F. W. G. Kohlrausch, and received a great impetus from the work of Svante Arrhenius, J. H. Van’t Hoff, W. Ostwald, H. W. Nernst and many others. The theory of the ionization of salts in solution has raised much discussion amongst chemists, but the general fact is certain that electricity only moves through liquids in association with matter, and simultaneously involves chemical dissociation of molecular groups.
Discharge through Gases.—Many eminent physicists had an instinctive feeling that the study of the passage of electricity through gases would shed much light on the intrinsic nature of electricity. Faraday devoted to a careful examination of the phenomena the XIIIth series of his Experimental Researches, and among the older workers in this field must be particularly mentioned J. Plücker, J. W. Hittorf, A. A. de la Rive, J. P. Gassiot, C. F. Varley, and W. Spottiswoode and J. Fletcher Moulton. It has long been known that air and other gases at the pressure of the atmosphere were very perfect insulators, but that when they were rarefied and contained in glass tubes with platinum electrodes sealed through the glass, electricity could be passed through them under sufficient electromotive force and produced a luminous appearance known as the electric glow discharge. The so-called vacuum tubes constructed by H. Geissler (1815–1879) containing air, carbonic acid, hydrogen, &c., under a pressure of one or two millimetres, exhibit beautiful appearances when traversed by the high tension current produced by the secondary circuit of an induction coil. Faraday discovered the existence of a dark space round the negative electrode which is usually known as the “Faraday dark space.” De la Rive added much to our knowledge of the subject, and J. Plücker and his disciple J. W. Hittorf examined the phenomena exhibited in so-called high vacua, that is, in exceedingly rarefied gases. C. F. Varley discovered the interesting fact that no current could be sent through the rarefied gas unless a certain minimum potential difference of the electrodes was excited. Sir William Crookes took up in 1872 the study of electric discharge through high vacua, having been led to it by his researches on the radiometer. The particular details of the phenomena observed will be found described in the article Conduction, Electric (§ III.). The main fact discovered by researches of Plücker, Hittorf and Crookes was that in a vacuum tube containing extremely rarefied air or other gas, a luminous discharge takes place from the negative electrode which proceeds in lines normal to the surface of the negative electrode and renders phosphorescent both the glass envelope and other objects placed in the vacuum tube when it falls upon them. Hittorf made in 1869 the discovery that solid objects could cast shadows or intercept this cathode discharge. The cathode discharge henceforth engaged the attention of many physicists. Varley had advanced tentatively the hypothesis that it consisted in an actual projection of electrified matter from the cathode, and Crookes was led by his researches in 1870, 1871 and 1872 to embrace and confirm this hypothesis in a modified form and announce the existence of a fourth state of matter, which he called radiant matter, demonstrating by many beautiful and convincing experiments that there was an actual projection of material substance of some kind possessing inertia from the surface of the cathode. German physicists such as E. Goldstein were inclined to take another view. Sir J. J. Thomson, the successor of Maxwell and Lord Rayleigh in the Cavendish chair of physics in the university of Cambridge, began about the year 1899 a remarkable series of investigations on the cathode discharge, which finally enabled him to make a measurement of the ratio of the electric charge to the mass of the particles of matter projected from the cathode, and to show that this electric charge was identical with the atomic electric charge carried by a hydrogen ion in the act of electrolysis, but that the mass of the cathode particles, or “corpuscles” as he called them, was far less, viz. about 1th part of the mass of a hydrogen atom. The subject was pursued by Thomson and the Cambridge physicists with great mathematical and experimental ability, and finally the conclusion was reached that in a high vacuum tube the electric charge is carried by particles which have a mass only a fraction, as above mentioned, of that of the hydrogen atom, but which carry a charge equal to the unit electric charge of the hydrogen ion as found by electrochemical researches. P. E. A. Lenard made in 1894 (Wied. Ann. Phys., 51, p. 225) the discovery that these cathode particles or corpuscles could pass through a window of thin sheet aluminium placed in the wall of the vacuum tube and give rise to a class of radiation called the Lenard rays. W. C. Röntgen of Munich made in 1896 his remarkable discovery of the so-called X or Röntgen rays, a class of radiation produced by the impact of the cathode particles against an impervious metallic screen or anticathode placed in the vacuum tube. The study of Röntgen rays was ardently pursued by the principal physicists in Europe during the years 1897 and 1898 and subsequently. The principal property of these Röntgen rays which attracted public attention was their power of passing through many solid bodies and affecting a photographic plate. Hence some substances were opaque to them and others transparent. The astonishing feat of photographing the bones of the living animal within the tissues soon rendered the Röntgen rays indispensable in surgery and directed an army of investigators to their study.
Radioactivity.—One outcome of all this was the discovery by H. Becquerel in 1896 that minerals containing uranium, and particularly the mineral known as pitchblende, had the power of affecting sensitive photographic plates enclosed in a black paper envelope when the mineral was placed on the outside, as well as of discharging a charged electroscope (Com. Rend., 1896, 122, p. 420). This research opened a way of approach to the phenomena of radioactivity, and the history of the steps by which P. Curie and Madame Curie were finally led to the discovery of radium is one of the most fascinating chapters in the history of science. The study of radium and radioactivity (see Radioactivity) led before long to the further remarkable knowledge that these so-called radioactive materials project into surrounding space particles or corpuscles, some of which are identical with those projected from the cathode in a high vacuum tube, together with others of a different nature. The study of radioactivity was pursued with great ability not only by the Curies and A. Debierne, who associated himself with them, in France, but by E. Rutherford and F. Soddy in Canada, and by J. J. Thomson, Sir William Crookes, Sir William Ramsay and others in England.
Electronic Theory.—The final outcome of these investigations was the hypothesis that Thomson’s corpuscles or particles composing the cathode discharge in a high vacuum tube must be looked upon as the ultimate constituent of what we call negative electricity; in other words, they are atoms of negative electricity, possessing, however, inertia, and these negative electrons are components at any rate of the chemical atom. Each electron is a point-charge of negative electricity equal to 3.9 × 10−10 of an electrostatic unit or to 1.3 × 10−20 of an electromagnetic unit, and the ratio of its charge to its mass is nearly 2 × 107 using E.M. units. For the hydrogen atom the ratio of charge to mass as deduced from electrolysis is about 104. Hence the mass of an electron is 1th of that of a hydrogen atom. No one has yet been able to isolate positive electrons, or to give a complete demonstration that the whole inertia of matter is only electric inertia due to what may be called the inductance of the electrons. Prof. Sir J. Larmor developed in a series of very able papers (Phil. Trans., 1894, 185; 1895, 186; 1897, 190), and subsequently in his book Aether and Matter (1900), a remarkable hypothesis of the structure of the electron or corpuscle, which he regards as simply a strain centre in the aether or electromagnetic medium, a chemical atom being a collection of positive and negative electrons or strain centres in stable orbital motion round their common centre of mass (see Aether). J. J. Thomson also developed this hypothesis in a profoundly interesting manner, and we may therefore summarize very briefly the views held on the nature of electricity and matter at the beginning of the 20th century by saying that the term electricity had come to be regarded, in part at least, as a collective name for electrons, which in turn must be considered as constituents of the chemical atom, furthermore as centres of certain lines of self-locked and permanent strain existing in the universal aether or electromagnetic medium. Atoms of matter are composed of congeries of electrons and the inertia of matter is probably therefore only the inertia of the electromagnetic medium. Electric waves are produced wherever electrons are accelerated or retarded, that is, whenever the velocity of an electron is changed or accelerated positively or negatively. In every solid body there is a continual atomic dissociation, the result of which is that mixed up with the atoms of chemical matter composing them we have a greater or less percentage of free electrons. The operation called an electric current consists in a diffusion or movement of these electrons through matter, and this is controlled by laws of diffusion which are similar to those of the diffusion of liquids or gases. Electromotive force is due to a difference in the density of the electronic population in different or identical conducting bodies, and whilst the electrons can move freely through so-called conductors their motion is much more hindered or restricted in non-conductors. Electric charge consists, therefore, in an excess or deficit of negative electrons in a body. In the hands of H. A. Lorentz, P. K. L. Drude, J. J. Thomson, J. Larmor and many others, the electronic hypothesis of matter and of electricity has been developed in great detail and may be said to represent the outcome of modern researches upon electrical phenomena.
The reader may be referred for an admirable summary of the theories of electricity prior to the advent of the electronic hypothesis to J. J. Thomson’s “Report on Electrical Theories” (Brit. Assoc. Report, 1885), in which he divides electrical theories enunciated during the 19th century into four classes, and summarizes the opinions and theories of A. M. Ampère, H. G. Grassman, C. F. Gauss, W. E. Weber, G. F. B. Riemann, R. J. E. Clausius, F. E. Neumann and H. von Helmholtz.
Bibliography.—M. Faraday, Experimental Researches in Electricity (3 vols., London, 1839, 1844, 1855); A. A. De la Rive, Treatise on Electricity (3 vols., London, 1853, 1858); J. Clerk Maxwell, A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (2 vols., 3rd ed., 1892); id., Scientific Papers (2 vols., edited by Sir W. J. Niven, Cambridge, 1890); H. M. Noad, A Manual of Electricity (2 vols., London, 1855, 1857); J. J. Thomson, Recent Researches in Electricity and Magnetism (Oxford, 1893); id., Conduction of Electricity through Gases (Cambridge, 1903); id., Electricity and Matter (London, 1904); O. Heaviside, Electromagnetic Theory (London, 1893); O. J. Lodge, Modern Views of Electricity (London, 1889); E. Mascart and J. Joubert, A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism, English trans. by E. Atkinson (2 vols., London, 1883); Park Benjamin, The Intellectual Rise in Electricity (London, 1895); G. C. Foster and A. W. Porter, Electricity and Magnetism (London, 1903); A. Gray, A Treatise on Magnetism and Electricity (London, 1898); H. W. Watson and S. H. Burbury, The Mathematical Theory of Electricity and Magnetism (2 vols., 1885); Lord Kelvin (Sir William Thomson), Mathematical and Physical Papers (3 vols., Cambridge, 1882); Lord Rayleigh, Scientific Papers (4 vols., Cambridge, 1903); A. Winkelmann, Handbuch der Physik, vols. iii. and iv. (Breslau, 1903 and 1905; a mine of wealth for references to original papers on electricity and magnetism from the earliest date up to modern times). For particular information on the modern Electronic theory the reader may consult W. Kaufmann, “The Developments of the Electron Idea.” Physikalische Zeitschrift (1st of Oct. 1901), or The Electrician (1901), 48, p. 95; H. A. Lorentz, The Theory of Electrons (1909); E. E. Fournier d’Albe, The Electron Theory (London, 1906); H. Abraham and P. Langevin, Ions, Electrons, Corpuscles (Paris, 1905); J. A. Fleming, “The Electronic Theory of Electricity,” Popular Science Monthly (May 1902); Sir Oliver J. Lodge, Electrons, or the Nature and Properties of Negative Electricity (London, 1907). (J. A. F.)
- Gilbert’s work, On the Magnet, Magnetic Bodies and the Great Magnet, the Earth, has been translated from the rare folio Latin edition of 1600, but otherwise reproduced in its original form by the chief members of the Gilbert Club of England, with a series of valuable notes by Prof. S. P. Thompson (London, 1900). See also The Electrician, February 21, 1902.
- See The Intellectual Rise in Electricity, ch. x., by Park Benjamin (London, 1895).
- See Sir Oliver Lodge, “Lightning, Lightning Conductors and Lightning Protectors,” Journ. Inst. Elec. Eng. (1889), 18, p. 386, and the discussion on the subject in the same volume; also the book by the same author on Lightning Conductors and Lightning Guards (London, 1892).
- The Electrical Researches of the Hon. Henry Cavendish 1771–1781, edited from the original manuscripts by J. Clerk Maxwell, F.R.S. (Cambridge, 1879).
- In 1878 Clerk Maxwell repeated Cavendish’s experiments with improved apparatus and the employment of a Kelvin quadrant electrometer as a means of detecting the absence of charge on the inner conductor after it had been connected to the outer case, and was thus able to show that if the law of electric attraction varies inversely as the nth power of the distance, then the exponent n must have a value of 2 ± 1. See Cavendish’s Electrical Researches, p. 419.
- Modern researches have shown that the loss of charge is in fact dependent upon the ionization of the air, and that, provided the atmospheric moisture is prevented from condensing on the insulating supports, water vapour in the air does not per se bestow on it conductance for electricity.
- Faraday discussed the chemical theory of the pile and arguments in support of it in the 8th and 16th series of his Experimental Researches on Electricity. De la Rive reviews the subject in his large Treatise on Electricity and , vol. ii. ch. iii. The writer made a contribution to the discussion in 1874 in a paper on “The Contact Theory of the Galvanic Cell,” Phil. Mag., 1874, 47, p. 401. Sir Oliver Lodge reviewed the whole position in a paper in 1885. “On the Seat of the Electromotive Force in a Voltaic Cell,” Journ. Inst. Elec. Eng., 1885, 14, p. 186.
- “Mémoire sur la théorie mathématique des phénomènes électrodynamiques,” Mémoires de l’institut, 1820, 6; see also Ann. de Chim., 1820, 15.
- See M. Faraday, “On some new Electro-Magnetical Motions and on the Theory of Magnetism,” Quarterly Journal of Science, 1822, 12, p. 74; or Experimental Researches on Electricity, vol. ii. p. 127.
- Amongst the most important of Faraday’s quantitative researches must be included the ingenious and convincing proofs he provided that the production of any quantity of electricity of one sign is always accompanied by the production of an equal quantity of electricity of the opposite sign. See Experimental Researches on Electricity, vol. i. § 1177.
- In this connexion the work of George Green (1793–1841) must not be forgotten. Green’s Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism, published in 1828, contains the first exposition of the theory of potential. An important theorem contained in it is known as Green’s theorem, and is of great value.
- See also his Submarine Telegraphs (London, 1898).
- The quantitative study of electrical phenomena has been enormously assisted by the establishment of the absolute system of electrical measurement due originally to Gauss and Weber. The British Association for the advancement of science appointed in 1861 a committee on electrical units, which made its first report in 1862 and has existed ever since. In this work Lord Kelvin took a leading part. The popularization of the system was greatly assisted by the publication by Prof. J. D. Everett of The C.G.S. System of Units (London, 1891).
- The first paper in which Maxwell began to translate Faraday’s conceptions into mathematical language was “On Faraday’s Lines of Force,” read to the Cambridge Philosophical Society on the 10th of December 1855 and the 11th of February 1856. See Maxwell’s Collected Scientific Papers, i. 155.
- A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (2 vols.), by James Clerk Maxwell, sometime professor of experimental physics in the university of Cambridge. A second edition was edited by Sir W. D. Niven in 1881 and a third by Prof. Sir J. J. Thomson in 1891.
- H. von Helmholtz, “On the Modern Development of Faraday’s Conception of Electricity,” Journ. Chem. Soc., 1881, 39, p. 277.
- See Maxwell’s Electricity and Magnetism, vol. i. p. 350 (2nd ed., 1881).
- “On the Physical Units of Nature,” Phil. Mag., 1881, , 11, p. 381. Also Trans. Roy. Soc. (Dublin, 1891), 4, p. 583.
- See Sir W. Thomson, Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond., 1856, 8, p. 152; or Maxwell, Elect. and Mag., vol. ii. p. 831.
- See Lord Rayleigh, Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond., 1884, 37, p. 146; Gordon, Phil. Trans., 1877, 167, p. 1; H. Becquerel, Ann. Chim. Phys., 1882, , 27, p. 312.
- Perkin’s Papers are to be found in the Journ. Chem. Soc. Lond., 1884, p. 421; 1886, p. 177; 1888, p. 561; 1889, p. 680; 1891, p. 981; 1892, p. 800; 1893, p. 75.
- The Work of Hertz (London, 1894).
- L’Ottica delle oscillazioni elettriche (Bologna, 1897).
- Les Oscillations électriques (Paris, 1894).
- Recent Researches in Electricity and Magnetism (Oxford, 1892).
- See J. J. Thomson, Proc. Roy. Inst. Lond., 1897, 15, p. 419; also Phil. Mag., 1899, , 48, p. 547.
- Later results show that the mass of a hydrogen atom is not far from 1.3×10−24 gramme and that the unit atomic charge or natural unit of electricity is 1.3 × 10−20 of an electromagnetic C.G.S. unit. The mass of the electron or corpuscle is 7.0 × 10−28 gramme and its diameter is 3 × 10−13 centimetre. The diameter of a chemical atom is of the order of 10−7 centimetre.
See H. A. Lorentz, “The Electron Theory,” Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift, 1905, 26, p. 584; or Science Abstracts, 1905, 8, A, p. 603.
- See J. J. Thomson, Electricity and Matter (London, 1904).