Timeline of electricity adoption

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This is a timeline of electricity adoption.

Big picture

Time period Development summary More details
1800–1880s Scientific underpinnings of electricity and early electric lighting systems are developed
1880s–1914 Early stages of public electricity supply through electrification in cities Wilkins et al.: "In short, by the eve of the First World War in 1914, foreign investors had spread electrification on a vast, global, but very uneven scale. Domestic and international investments had reached the point that some electrification was present in every large city in the world. This did not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that every household in these cities had electricity. […] by the summer of 1914 every large-city dweller around the world was familiar with electric lights at the very minimum and possibly also electric tramways. All parts of a city might not have access to electricity, but all large cities had at least the rudiments of electricity and often more."[1]:123
1980s–1990s Privatization and unbundling of the electricity sector take place in various countries

Full timeline

Year Month and date Event type Details Location
1800 Science Alessandro Volta develops the first battery.[2]
1802–1809 Science Sometime during this period, Humphry Davy first demonstrates the arc lamp.
1816 Science The first working electrical telegraph is built by Francis Ronalds.
1831 Science Michael Faraday announces his discovery of electromagnetic induction.[3]:3
1847 October 12 Commercial The Siemens & Halske Telegraph Construction Company is founded.[1]:75
1858 The first practical installation of an arc light system is done at the South Foreland Lighthouse.[4] United Kingdom
1876 Science Pavel Yablochkov develops his eponymous candle, which provided a softer and longer-lasting light compared to the arc light.[5][6][7][4]
1878 November 15 Commercial The Edison Electric Light Company is incorporated in New York. The company provides "financial support for Edison's electric light experiments in return for control of the resulting patents".[8]
1878 December 18 Science Joseph Swan demonstrates that "a carbon filament in an evacuated glass globe would glow when an electric current was passed through it". This allows for electric lighting that is not excessively bright.[3]:4
1879 Electrification begins in Mexico in the form of power for industrial activity for cotton mills and mining and refining.[1]:112 Mexico
1879 June 28 Science Walter Baily demonstrates an AC motor to the Physical Society of London.
1879 November 1 Science Thomas Edison's carbon-filament incandescent lamp is patented.[9]
1880 Science Joseph Swan obtains a British patent for his incandescent light bulb.[9]
1880 Commercial The Brush Electric Company, which manufactures arc light systems, is established. The company is formed as a result of restructuring of the Telegraph Supply Company of Cleveland.[10]
1880 December 17 Commercial The Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York is organized.[8]
1880 December 23 Commercial The Edison Electric Light Company of Europe, Ltd. is incorporated to control Edison's electric light patents in Europe (except the United Kingdom).[8][1]:77 United States (New York)
1880–1883 The first electric trams begin operating in Russia (1880), Germany (1881), Britain (1883), and Austria (1883).
1881–1888 Mexican Gas and Electric Light Co. Ltd. installs the first electric street lamp system in Mexico. However, it would not be until February 1894 that the lights begin shining.[1]:112 Mexico (Mexico City)
1881 Commercial The Swan Electric Light Company is founded.[11]
1881 September Generation Godalming becomes the first town in the world with a public electricity supply. The central station here is water-powered.[3]
1882 January 12 Generation Holborn Viaduct power station begins running. It is steam-powered.[3]:7 United Kingdom (London)
1882 March 15 Commercial The Edison Electric Light Company, Ltd. is organized in London.[8] United Kingdom
1882 August 18 Legal The Electric Lighting Act of 1882 is enacted. This act allows for the creation of a public electricity supply by breaking up (i.e. digging up and temporarily removing) streets in order to place pipes.[3]:5[12] The act also provides a twenty-one-year limited tenure to private companies to supply electricity (after which the local government would be allowed to purchase the central station and distribution system).[13]:60 United Kingdom
1882 September 2 Kimberley becomes the first city in the Southern Hemisphere and the second in the world after Philadelphia to adopt electric street lights into its infrastructure.[14][15][16][17] South Africa
1882 September 4 Generation Pearl Street Station begins generating electricity.[8] United States (New York City)
1883 Commercial The Thomson-Houston Electric Company is established.[18]
1883 March 13 Commercial The German Edison company, known as Deutsche Edison-Gesellschaft für angewandte Elektricität at the time, is founded by Emil Rathenau.[13] The company would later be renamed to AEG.
1883 October Commercial The English Edison Company and Swan Electric Light Company merge to form the Edison and Swan United Electric Light Company, Ltd.[13]:62[8]
1884 Science The modern steam turbine is invented by Charles Parsons. A production model would be installed in the Forth Banks power station in Newcastle in 1888.[3]:13
1885 Science The ZBD alternating current transformer is invented.
1886 January 8 Commercial The Westinghouse Electric Corporation is founded as Westinghouse Electric Company.[1]:91
1886 November 30 Generation The first commercial alternating current central station in the United States begins operating.[19] United States (Buffalo, New York)
1888 June 28 Legal The Electric Lighting Act of 1888 is enacted. This act amends the act from 1882 by extending the tenure for private companies from twenty-one to forty-two years.[13]:64 United Kingdom
1889 Commercial NESCo is founded by John Theodore Merz as Newcastle upon Tyne Electric Supply Company.
1889 April 24 Commercial The Edison General Electric Company is incorporated. United States (New York)
1893 Appliance The first electric bread toaster is invented by Alan MacMasters. United Kingdom
1897 By this time, the United States has electrified almost 90% of its tramway mileage.[3]:15 United States
1899 Legal The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 passes in the United States. Part of the act requires a permit to dam navigable waters. United States
1902 Appliance The first modern electric air conditioning unit is invented. United States
1904 Appliance The first electric washing machines are created around this time.
1905 By this time, Britain has electrified almost 90% of its tramway mileage.[3]:15 United Kingdom
1906 Appliance The first patents for induction cooking date back to around this time. However, modern implementations would arrive only in the 1970s.
1907 Appliance The first portable electric vacuum cleaner is invented. United States
1910s–1920s Appliance The first electric dishwasher is produced around this time. Wikipedia shows a photo of one from "about 1917". Some other sources credit "the Walker brothers" in 1913.[20] By the mid-1920s, there are companies dedicated to manufacturing electric dishwashers.[21]
1914 Appliance The first practical electric refrigerator is created around this time.
1918 Commercial In the aftermath of World War I, German electricity companies in various regions of the world are seized or bought.[1]:131–138
1920 June 10 Legal The Federal Water Power Act is enacted. This act creates the Federal Power Commission. United States
1933–1942 Generation Grand Coulee Dam, with its first two powerhouses, is constructed. It is currently the sixth largest hydroelectric power station in the world (and largest in the United States) by installed capacity. United States (Washington State)
1935 Legal The Rural Electrification Administration is created as part of the New Deal. United States
1936 May 20 Legal The Rural Electrification Act is enacted. United States
1946 Legal Electricity production and distribution in France is nationalized.[22]:315 France
1947 Appliance The microwave oven becomes commercially available.
1948 April 1 Legal In Britain, the Electricity Act 1947 nationalizes the electricity generation and supply industry. The act would be repealed in 1989 with the Electricity Act 1989. United Kingdom
1963–1978 Generation The Guri Dam is built. It is the fourth largest hydroelectric power station in the world by installed capacity. Venezuela
1971–1984 Generation The Itaipu Dam is constructed. It is the second largest hydroelectric dam in the world by installed capacity. Brazil, Paraguay
1975–1984 Generation The Tucuruí Dam is built. It is the fifth largest hydroelectric power station in the world by installed capacity. Brazil
1978 October Legal Economy 7 is introduced in the United Kingdom. United Kingdom
1980s–1990s Legal The electricity sector is reformed in several Latin American countries. These mainly take the form of privatizing the sector and unbundling generation, transmission and distribution. Reforms take place in at least Chile (1982), Argentina (1991–1992), Brazil (1990s), Uruguay (1997), and Bolivia (1994).
1989 Legal In the United Kingdom, the Electricity Act 1989 allows large-scale privatization and unbundling the electricity sector.[1]:264 United Kingdom
1992 Legal The United Kingdom Department of Energy is abolished as part of an effort to privatize the energy industries. United Kingdom
1994–2012 Generation The Three Gorges Dam is constructed. It is the largest hydroelectric power station in the world by installed capacity. China
2000 April California electricity crisis
2005–2013 Generation The Xiluodu Dam is constructed. It is the third largest hydroelectric power station by installed capacity. China

Meta information on the timeline

How the timeline was built

The original version of the timeline was written during May 12–24, 2017. At the end of May, the timeline was still in draft form. On June 8, some minor polish was applied so that the timeline was at a "first published version".

What the timeline is still missing

More events in general. I only went partially through Hannah,[3] Hausman,[1] and Hughes.[13] (Page numbers give a general idea of how far I got in each.)

The US and UK have more events in the timeline so far. There are probably a lot more interesting events in Germany, France, Russia, Japan, etc.

Big picture also has holes in the periods where I wasn't able to read into as much.

Timeline update strategy

  • Fill in missing stuff from above.
  • Read around on Wikipedia to find more topics or clusters of topics (e.g. something like big dam buildings, except that's already in the timeline).

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Hausman, William J.; Hertner, Peter; Wilkins, Mira (2008). Global Electrification: Multinational Enterprise and International Finance in the History of Light and Power, 1878–2007. Cambridge University Press. 
  2. Jeffrey La Favre (1998). "Brush's Arc Lamp". Retrieved May 18, 2017. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Hannah, Leslie (1979). Electricity Before Nationalisation: A Study of the Development of The Electricity Supply Industry in Britain to 1948. The Macmillan Press LTD. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Arc Lighting". Engineering and Technology History Wiki. Retrieved May 22, 2017. 
  5. "Pavel Nikolayevich Yablochkov | Russian engineer and inventor". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved May 22, 2017. 
  6. "Pavel Yablochkov - Let It Be Light!". Russia-InfoCentre. Retrieved May 22, 2017. Yablochkov deals with electric illumination, and in 1876 he receives a patent for his electric candle. 
  7. "Jablochkoff Candles in Paris". Engineering and Technology History Wiki. Retrieved May 22, 2017. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 "Edison's Companies". The Edison Papers. Rutgers University. October 28, 2016. Retrieved May 18, 2017. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Edison's Incandescent Lamp". Engineering and Technology History Wiki. Retrieved May 17, 2017. 
  10. Jeffrey La Favre (1998). "Charles Francis Brush". Retrieved May 20, 2017. 
  11. Phil Ament (January 30, 2007). "Light Bulb History - Invention of the Light Bulb". Retrieved May 20, 2017. 
  12. Glen, W. Cunningham; Glen, Alex. "The Electric Lighting Act 1882". 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 Thomas Parke Hughes (1983). Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880–1930. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 
  14. "CITY OF FIRSTS". bdb.co.za. Retrieved 14 July 2017. 
  15. Morris, Michael; Linnegar, John (2004). Every Step of the Way. Human Sciences Research Council. ISBN 0-7969-2061-3. 
  16. Christie, Renfrew (1984). Electricity, Industry and Class in South Africa. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd. pp. 5–6. 
  17. Conradie, S. R.; Messerschmidt, L. J. M. (2000). A Symphony of Power: The Eskom Story. Johannesburg: Chris van Rensburg Publications. p. 13. 
  18. Edward J. Covington. "The Thomson-Houston Electric Incandescent Lamp, 1884-1893". Retrieved May 18, 2017. The Thomson-Houston Company had been formed in 1883 to produce dynamos and arc lighting; it succeeded the American Electric Company, which had been formed in the year 1880. 
  19. "Early Electrification of Buffalo". Engineering and Technology History Wiki. Retrieved May 18, 2017. 
  20. "A Visit to a 1930s Appliance Show". Retrieved May 16, 2017. In 1913 when the Walker Brothers hardware store was wired for electricity they produced thier first electric dishwasher. 
  21. "Early Electric Dishwasher". Wisconsin Historical Society. Retrieved May 16, 2017. 
  22. Beltran, Alain. "Competitiveness and Electricity: Electricité de France Since 1946" (PDF).