If there’s any invention we can thank for the technological advancements of the last century, it’s electricity. Think about it: Without electricity, we wouldn’t have modern lights, cars, airplanes, computers, phones (smart or otherwise), home heating or air-conditioning, cutting-edge medical research…the list goes on. We would (literally) be stuck in the Dark Ages. Show us another innovation that has had the same ripple effect since the 1800s — go ahead, we’ll wait.
Chances are, you thought of some really ingenious things that have made our lives richer and easier, but we’re willing to bet that nothing came to mind that has had so much universal impact. That’s why we thought we’d give you a snapshot of how far electricity has come in the last century and a half. It will give you added perspective before you read about the local companies who are contributing to the next leg of this impressive timeline.

• 1870s to 1900

The notion of electricity wasn’t new in the 19th century. Philosopher Michael Faraday is considered the father of electricity for his work in electromagnetism and electrochemistry, and he’d died by 1867. Popular inventors like Benjamin Franklin, who considered that lightning could be harnessed to provide a current, and Samuel Morse, who invented the electrical telegraph to communicate over long distances, built on Faraday’s findings to explore how currents could be harnessed and used to aid in everyday tasks.
But for most people, it’s Thomas Edison who comes to mind when they think of modern electrification. Edison, who still has more than 1,000 patents to his name more than 90 years after his death, was instrumental in the creation of the nickel-iron battery to provide continuous electrical support, as well as the carbonized filament lightbulb, the phonograph, the movie camera and much more. Edison also had a knack for taking the inventions of others and improving on them, to make his versions vastly superior to those that came before.
Other inventions that were by-products of this time in history include the telephone, power generators, the X-ray machine and the electric railway.

• 1901 to 1950

The first electrical grids were built before the turn of the 20th century. Manhattan and New Jersey boasted the world’s first isolated electricity distribution systems by 1882, but by 1901, more regions were building power grids. Direct current (DC) power, which was what the New York Edison Company used, was challenged by alternating current (AC) power because AC was cheaper to produce and could travel further. George Westinghouse, now also a household name, founded his AC company to compete with Edison. By the 1930s, many private, unregulated power companies had cropped up; it wasn’t until 1935, in the thick of the Great Depression, that power companies became standardized.
The wide availability of electricity meant the arrival of home appliances like washing machines and fridges. By the 1940s, they were commonplace in homes around the world, along with radios, vacuum cleaners, irons and more. Electricity also helped with tremendous advancement in nearly all industries, from automotive to healthcare.

• 1950 to Present Day

Post-World War II, new sources of power became the focus of the electricity industry. While coal had previously been the primary source, other options — including renewable energy sources — were being considered. Natural gas was a major player, the first large-scale nuclear power station opened in Cumbria in 1956, gas-cooled reactors were being built, and water pressure was being tested as a viable source. Solar and wind also emerged as major contributors to the energy source conversation in the 1980s and ’90s. (Fun fact: US President Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed at the White House in 1979; they were later removed during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. President Barack Obama had a solar power system and a solar water system reinstated during his tenure.)
Today, we witness examples of ingenuity in electrification every day. As you will see in the pages to follow, what started as a spark of an idea (pun intended) hundreds of years ago has grown in remarkable ways — ways the likes of Faraday, Franklin, Morse, Edison and Westinghouse probably never thought possible. Now, can you imagine where we’ll be in another 150 years?

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