There is no study so profound as electricity. It is a marvel to the scientist as well as to the novice. It is simple in its manifestations, but most complex in its organization and in its ramifications. It has been shown that light, heat, magnetism and electricity are the same, but that they differ merely in their modes of motion.
The first historical account of electricity dates back to 600 years B. C. Thales of Miletus was the first to describe the properties of amber, which, when rubbed, attracted and repelled light bodies. The ancients also described what was probably tourmaline, a mineral which has the same qualities. The torpedo, a fish which has the power of emitting electric impulses, was known in very early times.
From that period down to about the year 1600 no accounts of any historical value have been given. Dr. Gilbert, of England, made a number of researches at that time, principally with amber and other materials, and Boyle, in 1650, made numerous experiments with frictional electricity.
Sir Isaac Newton also took up the subject at about the same period. In 1705 Hawksbee made numerous experiments; also Gray, in 1720, and a Welshman, Dufay, at about the same time. The Germans, from 1740 to 1780, made many experiments. In 1740, at Leyden, was discovered the jar which bears that name. Before that time, all experiments began and ended with frictional electricity.
The first attempt to "bottle" electricity was attempted by Muschenbrœck, at Leyden, who conceived the idea that electricity in materials might be retained by surrounding them with bodies which did not conduct the current. He electrified some water in a jar, and communication having been established between the water and the prime conductor, his assistant, who was holding the bottle, on trying to disengage the communicating wire, received a sudden shock.
In 1747 Sir William Watson fired gunpowder by an electric spark, and, later on, a party from the Royal Society, in conjunction with Watson, conducted a series of experiments to determine the velocity of the electric fluid, as it was then termed.
Benjamin Franklin, in 1750, showed that lightning was electricity, and later on made his interesting experiments with the kite and the key.
The great discovery of Galvani, in 1790, led to the recognition of a new element in electricity, called galvanic or voltaic (named after the experimenter, Volta), and now known to be identical with frictional electricity. In 1805 Poisson was the first to analyze electricity; and when Œrsted of Copenhagen, in 1820, discovered the magnetic action of electricity, it offered a great stimulus to the science, and paved the way for investigation in a new direction. Ampere was the first to develop the idea that a motor or a dynamo could be made operative by means of the electro-magnetic current; and Faraday, about 1830, discovered electro-magnetic rotation.