Good old Thomas Edison. He helped develop so many technologies we take for granted today – such as motion pictures, sound recording and long-distance communications.
But Edison’s perhaps most famous for bringing electricity to the general public, by establishing the first power station in New York City. Thanks to the foundations established by Edison, electricity suppliers around the world can safely and efficiently transmit energy to the masses.
Well, this is the popular view. But Edison was a very influential man, and perhaps as a result, his legacy doesn’t always stand up to historical scrutiny.
For example, did you know that…?
A Small English Town Got The World’s First Electricity Supply
New York – bright lights, big city. It’s the perfect setting for the first ever power station, right?
Perhaps. But it’s somewhere far more innocuous that received the world’s first electricity supply – around a year before Edison opened his NYC power station and set the ball rolling for electricity suppliers in the US of A.
Godalming is located in England’s ‘Green Belt’ of towns and villages around London. As the name suggests, the Green Belt is full of open fields, free-roaming rabbits and other nature-y, olde English countryside-y things.
And with a population of around 20,000, Godalming is dwarfed by the Big Apple (which, for reference, packs around eight million people within its city limits).
Yet it was this town that received the world’s first electricity supply. Powered by a small waterwheel, and providing enough power to feed around 40 light bulbs, the supply was decidedly more rural and diminutive than Edison’s effort – but it still takes first place in the electricity race.
Edison’s Electricity Was Impractical and Expensive
Soon after he opened America’s first power station, Edison pushed forward with his true innovation – to lead the way for electricity suppliers around the world by establishing mass-production systems. By 1887, he had 121 power stations around the US.
However, his plan soon hit a snag. Edison had already spent lots of money creating power stations which generated direct-current (DC) electricity. And DC isn’t all that great for everyday use.
DC needed to be transmitted over thick, expensive wires. What’s more, it was only economical to provide it to customers very close to the power station, as power would quickly deplete if the wires stretched long distances.
The upshot was that Edison’s DC electricity was only suitable for business districts – there was no way he could afford to provide power for small-town America.
Worse still, a clever fellow called George Westinghouse had entered the scene. Westinghouse suggested using alternating current (AC) to transmit electricity.
AC allowed electricity to be distributed on thinner, cheaper wires, and to travel along much further distances. In other words, it was better for pretty much everything.
Naturally, Edison wasn’t best pleased, and he soon channelled his annoyance into an ominous propaganda campaign known as the ‘War of Currents’.
In an effort to convince the public that AC was shockingly dangerous, Edison’s employees went as far as electrocuting an elephant on film.
All in all, though, AC current won out. Except for certain industrial applications (and underground transport systems), electricity suppliers use AC almost exclusively.
Louisa Jenkins loves technology, and is always keeping up to date with the latest energy efficiency news. She brings these passions together to blog about her favourite tech subjects, and how electricity suppliers are utilising technology to save energy.