The roots of the modern electricity generating industry are to be found in the early and middle years of the nineteenth century and in the work of men such as Benjamin Franklin, Alessandro Volta and Michael Faraday. Faraday, in particular, was able to show the relationship between electricity and magnetism, a relationship that makes it possible to generate electricity with moving machinery rather than take it from chemical batteries as was the case in his day.
The widening understanding of electricity coincided with the development of the steam engine, and the widespread use of gas for fuel and lighting. In the USA, Thomas Edison developed the carbon filament that produced light from electricity. Similar work was carried out in the UK by Sir Joseph Swan.
Lighting offered the first commercial use for electricity, but it was an insufficient foundation for an industry. What accelerated the growth of electricity generation was its use for traction power. Electric trams for urban transport and the underground railway system in London were the kinds of projects that stimulated the construction of large power stations in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.
Its origins may be in the nineteenth century, but few would dispute that the growth of the electricity industry was a twentieth century phenomenon. There is little doubt, too, that it will become the world's most important source of energy. Vital modern developments such as computers and communications are impossible without it. It is worth remembering, however, that most of the key elements necessary for electricity generation, transmission and distribution were developed during the century before last.
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