Nobody actually invented electricity, but its existence and uses have been discovered by a variety of people. Electricity occurs for a number of reasons including electrical charges in subatomic particles, electrical currents flowing through electrically charged particles, electric fields which are produced without a current, electrical potential which is the capacity of an electric field to work on a charge, and electromagnetics, which is the exchange between magnetic fields and currents.
People have studied electricity and phenomena caused by electricity for thousands of years. It was during the 17th and 18th centuries that people began using electricity for practical purposes, and during the later 19th century engineers began putting it to use in homes and for industrial uses. Today electricity is used for heating, transportation, lighting, communications, and computer technology.
The first person to discover the lodestone effect caused by static electricity was William Gilbert. It was during the 17th century that Gilbert discovered electricity’s ability to attract small objects after being rubbed. He used amber to produce static electricity, but today we see the phenomena most often with inflated latex balloons. During the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin spent a great deal of time researching and experimenting with electricity. One of the most popular stories regarding his experiments concerned a key connected to a kite that was flown during an electrical storm. When a lightning bolt hit the kite, the electricity was generated through the key to his hand. What Franklin accomplished was discovering lightning is electrical.
A few years later in 1791, Luigi Galvani demonstrated that electricity was the medium with which nerve cells pass signals to muscles in the body. Nine years after this discover, the battery was created by Alessandro Volta when he used layers of zinc and copper to create a reliable source of electricity. Other significant figures in the study and development of electricity include Hans Chrisian Orsted and Andre-Marie Ampere who recognized the connection between electricity and magnetic phenomena, and Georg Ohm who analyzed the electrical circuit. Throughout the industrial age, other electrical pioneers advanced the study and application of electricity include Otto Blathy, Anyos Jedlik, and Joseph Swan. Some of the most famous names people recognize include Nikola Tesla, George Westinghouse, Alexander Graham Bell, and of course, Thomas Edison.
Edison, sometimes called the Wizard of Menlo Park for the neighborhood that was later renamed in his honor, Edison, New Jersey, was an inventor and businessman. He was responsible for the development of many technological devices including the phonograph, the camera, and the light bulb. Like the other inventors, he found ways to use electricity in practical ways to make life easier, more convenient, and more fun for everyone.