Timeline of Electronics

From Early Beginnings to the End of the 20th Century

Benjamin Franklin Flying Kite in Storm
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600 B.C.

  • Thales of Miletus writes about amber becoming charged by rubbing. He was describing what we now call static electricity.

1600

  • English scientist, William Gilbert first coined the term "electricity" from the Greek word for amber. Gilbert wrote about the electrification of many substances in his treatise, "De Magnete, Magneticisique Corporibus." He was also the first to use the terms "electric force," "magnetic pole," and "electric attraction."

1660

  • Otto von Guericke invents a machine to produce static electricity.

1675

  • Robert Boyle discovers that electric force could be transmitted through a vacuum and observes forces of electrical attraction and repulsion.

1729

  • Stephen Gray discovers the conductivity of electricity.

1733

  • Charles Francois du Fay discovers that electricity comes in two forms which he calls resinous (-) and vitreous (+). Benjamin Franklin and Ebenezer Kinnersley later rename the two forms as positive and negative.

1745

  • Georg Von Kleist discovers that electricity was controllable.
  • Dutch physicist, Pieter van Musschenbroek invented the first electrical capacitor, the Leyden Jar, which stores static electricity.

1747

  • Benjamin Franklin experiments with static charges in the air and theorizes about the existence of an electrical fluid that could be composed of particles.
  • William Watson discharges a Leyden jar through a circuit which leads to the comprehension of current and circuit.
  • Henry Cavendish begins measuring the conductivity of different materials.

1752

  • Benjamin Franklin invents the lightning rod, demonstrating that lightning was a form of electricity.

1767

  • Joseph Priestley discovers that electricity follows Newton's inverse-square law of gravity.

1786

  • Italian physician, Luigi Galvani demonstrates what we now understand to be the electrical basis of nerve impulses by making the muscles of a frog twitch by jolting them with a spark from an electrostatic machine.

1800

  • The first electric battery is invented by Alessandro Volta, who proves that electricity can travel over wires.

1816

  • The first energy utility in the United States is founded.

1820

  • The relationship between electricity and magnetism is confirmed by Hans Christian Oersted who observes that electrical currents affect the needle on a compass and by Marie Ampere, who discovers that a coil of wires acted like a magnet when a current is passed through it.
  • D. F. Arago invents the electromagnet.

1821

1826

  • Georg Simon Ohm writes his law which states that "conduction law that relates potential, current, and circuit resistance."

1827

  • Joseph Henry, who built one of the first electric motors, conducts electromagnetic experiments that lead to the concept of electrical inductance.

1831

  • Michael Faraday discovers the principles of electromagnetism induction, generation, and transmission.

1837

First industrial electric motors.

1839

  • The first fuel cell is invented by Welsh judge, inventor, and physicist, Sir William Robert Grove.

1841

  • J. P. Joule's law of electrical heating is published.

1873

  • James Clerk Maxwell's equations describe the electromagnetic field and predict the existence of electromagnetic waves traveling at the speed of light.

1878

  • Edison Electric Light Co. (U.S.A.) and American Electric and Illuminating (Canada) are founded.

1879

  • The first commercial power station opens in San Francisco using a Charles Brush generator and arc lights.
  • The world's first commercial arc lighting system is installed in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Thomas Edison demonstrates his incandescent lamp at Menlo Park, New Jersey.

1880

  • Charles Brush water-driven turbine arc light dynamo is used to provide theater and storefront illumination In Grand Rapids Michigan.

1881

  • In Niagra Falls, New York, a Charles Brush dynamo is connected to the turbine in Quigley's flour mill to light city street lamps.

1882

  • The Edison Company opens Pearl Street power station.
  • The first hydroelectric power station opens in Wisconsin.

1883

  • The electric transformer is invented.
  • Thomas Edison introduces the "three-wire" transmission system.

1884

1886

  • William Stanley develops a transformer and alternating current (AC) electric system.
  • Frank Sprague builds the first American transformer and demonstrates the use of step-up and step-down transformers for long-distance AC power transmission in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
  • The Westinghouse Electric Company is organized.
  • Between 40 and 50 water-powered electric plants are reported online or under construction in the U.S. and Canada.

1887

  • The High Grove Station, the first hydroelectric plant in the western United States, opens in San Bernadino, California.

1888

Nikola Tesla invents the rotating field AC alternator.

1889

  • The first AC hydroelectric plant, Willamette Falls station, opens in Oregon City Oregon. Single-phase power is transmitted 13 miles to Portland at 4,000 volts, stepped-down to 50 volts for distribution.

1891

  • The 60-cycle AC system is introduced in America.

1892

  • The General Electric Company is formed by the merger of Thomson-Houston and Edison General Electric.

1893

  • Westinghouse demonstrates a "universal system" of generation and distribution at the Chicago Exposition.
  • Traversing the Colorado River, the first dam designed specifically for hydroelectric power is completed in Austin, Texas.

1897

  • J. J. Thomson discovers the electron.

1900

  • A new record is set for the highest voltage transmission line—60 Kilovolts.
  • Believing gas-driven cars were too noisy and emitted noxious fumes, Viennese coachbuilder Jacob Lohner taps 21-year-old Austrian engineer Ferdinand Porsche to install the in-wheel motors he'd invented into one of Lohner's coaches. The result, the Lohner-Porsche Elektromobil, the world's first hybrid car, debuts at the Paris Exposition of 1900.

1902

  • A 5-Megawatt turbine is installed at the Fisk Street Station in Chicago, Illinois.

1903

  • The first successful gas turbine debuts in France.
  • World’s first all turbine station debuts in Chicago.
  • Shawinigan Water & Power installs the world's largest generator (5,000 Watts) and the world’s largest and highest voltage line—136 Km and 50 Kilovolts—to Montreal.
  • The advent of the electric vacuum cleaner and the electric washing machine.

1904

  • John Ambrose Fleming invents the diode rectifier vacuum tube.

1905

  • The first low-head hydro plant with directly connected vertical shaft turbines and generators opens in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

1906

  • The Patapsco Electric and Manufacturing Company constructs the world's first underwater hydroelectric plant inside Bloede's Dam near Gray's Mill on the Patapsco River in Maryland.

1907

  • Lee De Forest invents the electric amplifier.

1909

  • The first pumped storage plant is opened in Switzerland.

1910

  • Ernest R. Rutherford measures the distribution of an electric charge within the atom.

1911

  • Willis Haviland Carrier discloses his basic Rational Psychrometric Formulae to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The formula still stands today as the basis of all fundamental calculations for the air conditioning industry.
  • R. D. Johnson invents the differential surge tank and the hydrostatic penstock valve.

1913

  • The electric refrigerator is invented.
  • Robert Millikan measures the electric charge on a single electron.

1917

  • The Hydracone draft tube is patented by W. M. White.

1920

  • The First U.S. station powered by burning pulverized coal is opened.
  • The Federal Power Commission (FPC) is established.

1922

  • Connecticut Valley Power Exchange (CONVEX) starts, pioneering the interconnection between utilities.

1928

  • The construction of Boulder Dam begins.
  • The Federal Trade Commission begins an investigation of holding companies.

1933

  • The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is established.

1935

  • The Public Utility Holding Company Act is passed.
  • The Federal Power Act is passed.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission is established.
  • The Bonneville Power Administration is established.
  • The first major league night-baseball game is made possible by electric lighting.

1936

  • The highest recorded steam temperature reaches 900° Fahrenheit (as opposed to 600° Fahrenheit recorded in the early 1920s).
  • A 287 Kilovolt line runs 266 miles to Boulder (Hoover) Dam.
  • The Rural Electrification Act is passed.

1947

1953

  • The first 345 Kilovolt transmission line is laid.
  • The first nuclear power station is ordered.

1954

  • The first high-voltage direct current (HVDC) line (20 megawatts/1900 Kilovolts, 96 Km) debuts.
  • The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 allows private ownership of nuclear reactors.

1963

  • The Clean Air Act is passed.

1965

  • The Northeast Blackout occurs.

1968

  • The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) is formed.

1969

  • The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 is passed.

1970

1972

  • The Clean Water Act of 1972 is passed.

1975

  • Brown’s Ferry nuclear accident occurs.

1977

  • The New York City blackout occurs.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) is formed.

1978

  • The Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) is passed and ends utility monopoly.
  • The Power Plant and Industrial Fuel Use Act limits the use of natural gas in electric generation (repealed 1987).

1979

  • The Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurs.

1980

  • The first U.S. wind farm is opened.
  • The Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act establishes regional regulation and planning.

1981

  • PURPA is ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge.

1982

  • The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the legality of PURPA in FERC v. Mississippi (456 US 742).

1984

  • Canada's Annapolis, N.S., a tidal power plant, is first of its kind in North America opens.

1985

  • Citizens Power, the first power marketer, goes into business.

1986

  • Chernobyl nuclear accident occurs in the USSR.

1990

  • Amendments to the Clean Air Act mandate additional pollution controls.

1992

  • The National Energy Policy Act is passed.

1997

  • ISO New England Inc., an independent, non-profit Regional Transmission Organization (RTO) serving Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont opens in Holyoke, Massachusetts to oversee New England's bulk electric power system.

1998

  • When California opens its market and ISO, Scottish Power buys PacifiCorp in the first foreign takeover of a U.S. utility, followed by National Grid announcing its purchase of New England Electric System.

1999

  • Electricity is marketed on the Internet.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issues Order 2000, promoting regional transmission.