Skip to Main Content

Innovations in Electricity: People

An introduction to the history of electricity

About This Guide

This guide helps students research the history of electricity and the people responsible for its practical use. The Science History Museum is a valuable resource for collecting information for National History Day as well as science and history projects for high school students. This guide is meant to give students a jump start on researching the innovators and innovations behind electricity. 

*Please use the tabs above to explore the people and objects that were significant to the history of electricity

Oral History Interview With Calvin S. Fuller


Click the image to link to interview

In this interview, Dr. Fuller traces his early years and the development of his interests in radio and in chemistry. Encouraged by an outstanding high school teacher, Fuller won a scholarship to the University of Chicago. Economic pressures forced him to break studies for periods of employment in the analytical laboratories of the General Chemical Company and as a photoengraver at the Chicago Tribune, but Fuller persists and completes his doctorate under W. D. Harkins. Dr. Fuller enlivens the interview with recollections of Harkins and Julius Stieglitz. Appointment as a research chemist under R.R. Williams at Bell Laboratories introduces Calvin Fuller to the infant science of synthetic polymers and to x-ray crystallography. World War II sees Fuller in Washington, D.C., heading polymer chemistry research as part of the synthetic rubber program. On return to Bell Laboratories after the war, Fuller decides to move to solid state chemistry and describes his work on semiconductors, leading to the development of the photovoltaic cell also known as solar panels. 

Michael Faraday Business Correspondence


Michael Faraday was an English scientist most famous for his discoveries in electromagnetism and electrochemistry. Despite having little formal education, Faraday discovered the principles of electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism, and the laws of electrolysis. His significant inventions include the Faraday disc, a forerunner of today's electric generator, and the electromagnetic rotary device which formed the foundation of electric motor technology. Linked below are multiple business correspondence Faraday wrote to James Curtis Booth, a chemist and refiner from Philadelphia, requesting a tour of his Manchester factory. The letters were written between August 22-25, 1835. 

.        .      

Click images to link

Key Terms

Alternating current (AC): Electric current that reverses directions at regular intervals.

Amps: Measurement of current flow through a conductor.

Atom: The smallest unit of matter.  Everything in the world is made of different combinations of atoms.

Battery: A single or group of connected electric cells that produce a direct electric current (DC).

Blackout: Total loss of electric power from the power distributor.

Brownout: A temporary reduction of voltage supplied by the electric power distributor.

Capacitance: The ability of a component to store an electrical charge.

Charge: Electricity produced by a surplus or a shortage of electrons in an object.

Circuit: The path followed by a flow of electric current.

Conductor: A substance or material that allows electrons, or electrical current, to flow through it.

Current: The movement or flow of electricity through a conductor.

Direct Current (DC): Electric current flowing in only one direction

Distribution Lines: Overhead or underground power lines that carry electricity through cities and neighborhoods to your home or business.

Electricity: The flow of electrons.

Electron: A negatively charged particle that orbits the nucleus of an atom. The flow of electrons produces electricity.

Energy: The ability to do work. Energy = Power x Time

FuseAn electrical safety device consisting of a wire or strip of fusible metal that melts and interrupts the circuit when the current exceeds a preset amperage.

GeneratorA machine that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. 

GroundAn electrical connection to the earth.

GridA power system's layout of its substations and power lines.

InsulatorAny material that will not allow electricity to flow through easily.

Kilowatt (kW)A unit for measuring electrical energy. (demand)

Kilowatt Hour (kWh)One kilowatt of electrical energy produced or used in one hour. (energy)

LoadAn electrical device or devices that use(s) electric power.

OhmsThe unit of measurement of the electrical resistance of a material.

Static ElectricityAn electrical charge built up due to friction between two dissimilar materials.

SurgeA short duration of increased voltage.

SwitchAn electrical component used for connecting, breaking, or changing the connections in an electrical circuit.

VoltThe unit of measurement of force used to produce an electric current.

WattA unit for measuring electric power.