Timeline of electromagnetic theory

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The timeline of electromagnetism, that is the timeline of the human understanding of electromagnetic forces, dates back over two thousand years ago. It lists, within the history of electromagnetism, the associated theories, technology, and events.

Ancient history[edit]

Detail of the right-hand facade fresco, showing Thales of Miletus, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

28th century BC: Ancient Egyptian texts describe electric fish. They refer to them as the "Thunderer of the Nile", and described them as the "protectors" of all other fish.[1]

6th century BC: Greek-Phoenician philosopher Thales of Miletus observes that rubbing fur on various substances, such as amber, would cause an attraction between the two, which is now known to be caused by static electricity. He noted that the amber buttons could attract light objects such as hair and that if the amber was rubbed sufficiently a spark would jump.

3rd century BC: The Baghdad Battery is dated from this period. It resembles a galvanic cell and is believed by some to have been used for electroplating, although there is no common consensus on the purpose of these devices nor whether they were, indeed, even electrical in nature.[2]

1st century BC: Pliny in his Natural History records the story of a shepherd Magnes who discovered the magnetic properties of some iron stones, "it is said, made this discovery, when, upon taking his herds to pasture, he found that the nails of his shoes and the iron ferrel of his staff adhered to the ground."[3]

8th century AD: Electric fish are reported by Arabic naturalists and physicians.[1]

14th century AD: Possibly the earliest and nearest approach to the discovery of the identity of lightning, and electricity from any other source, is to be attributed to the Arabs, who before the 15th century had the Arabic word for lightning (raad) applied to the electric ray.[4]

The Renaissance[edit]

1550: Girolamo Cardano distinguishes between electrical and magnetic forces in De subtilitate rerum.

1600: William Gilbert publishes De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure ("On the Magnet and Magnetic bodies, and on that Great Magnet the Earth"), Europe's then current standard on electricity and magnetism. He experimented with and noted the different character of electrical and magnetic forces. In addition to known ancient Greeks' observations of the electrical properties of rubbed amber, he experimented with a needle balanced on a pivot, and found that the needle was non-directionally affected by many materials such as alum, arsenic, hard resin, jet, glass, gum-mastic, mica, rock-salt, sealing wax, slags, sulfur, and precious stones such as amethyst, beryl, diamond, opal, and sapphire. He noted that electrical charge could be stored by covering the body with a non-conducting substance such as silk. He described the method of artificially magnetizing iron. His terrella (little earth), a sphere cut from a lodestone on a metal lathe, modeled the earth as a lodestone (magnetic iron ore) and demonstrated that every lodestone has fixed poles, and how to find them.[5] He considered that gravity was a magnetic force and noted that this mutual force increased with the size or amount of lodestone and attracted iron objects. He experimented with such physical models in an attempt to explain problems in navigation due varying properties of the magnetic compass with respect to their location on the earth, such as magnetic declination and magnetic inclination. His experiments explained the dipping of the needle by the magnetic attraction of the earth, and were used to predict where the vertical dip would be found. Such magnetic inclination was described as early as the 11th century by Shen Kuo in his Meng Xi Bi Tan and further investigated in 1581 by retired mariner and compass maker Robert Norman, as described in his pamphlet, The Newe Attractive. The gilbert, a unit of magnetomotive force or magnetic potential, was named in his honor.

1646: Sir Thomas Browne uses the word electricity in Pseudodoxia Epidemica.

1663: Otto von Guericke (brewer and engineer who applied the barometer to weather prediction and invented the air pump, with which he demonstrated the properties of atmospheric pressure associated with a vacuum) constructs a primitive electrostatic generating (or friction) machine via the triboelectric effect, utilizing a continuously rotating sulfur globe that could be rubbed by hand or a piece of cloth. Isaac Newton suggested the use of a glass globe instead of a sulfur one.

1675: Robert Boyle states that electric attraction and repulsion can act across a vacuum.

1705: Francis Hauksbee improves von Guericke's electrostatic generator by using a glass globe and generates the first sparks by approaching his finger to the rubbed globe.

1729: Stephen Gray and the Reverend Granville Wheler experiment to discover that electrical "virtue," produced by rubbing a glass tube, could be transmitted over an extended distance (nearly 900 ft (about 270 m)) through thin iron wire using silk threads as insulators, to deflect leaves of brass. This has been described as the beginning of electrical communication.[6][page needed] This was also the first distinction between the roles of conductors and insulators (names applied by John Desaguliers, mathematician and Royal Society member, who stated that Gray "has made greater variety of electrical experiments than all the philosophers of this and the last age.")[6][page needed] Georges-Louis LeSage built a static electricity telegraph in 1774, based upon the same principles discovered by Gray.

1734: Charles François de Cisternay DuFay (inspired by Gray's work to perform electrical experiments) dispels the effluvia theory by his paper in Volume 38 of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, describing his discovery of the distinction between two kinds of electricity: "resinous," produced by rubbing bodies such as amber, copal, or gum-lac with silk or paper, and "vitreous," by rubbing bodies as glass, rock crystal, or precious stones with hair or wool. He also posited the principle of mutual attraction for unlike forms and the repelling of like forms and that "from this principle one may with ease deduce the explanation of a great number of other phenomena." The terms resinous and vitreous were later replaced with the terms "positive" and "negative" by William Watson and Benjamin Franklin.

1745: Pieter van Musschenbroek of Leiden (Leyden) independently discovers the Leyden (Leiden) jar, a primitive capacitor or "condenser" (term coined by Volta in 1782, derived from the Italian condensatore), with which the transient electrical energy generated by current friction machines could now be stored. He and his student Andreas Cunaeus used a glass jar filled with water into which a brass rod had been placed. He charged the jar by touching a wire leading from the electrical machine with one hand while holding the outside of the jar with the other. The energy could be discharged by completing an external circuit between the brass rod and another conductor, originally his hand, placed in contact with the outside of the jar. He also found that if the jar were placed on a piece of metal on a table, a shock would be received by touching this piece of metal with one hand and touching the wire connected to the electrical machine with the other.

1745: Ewald Georg von Kleist of independently invents the capacitor: a glass jar coated inside and out with metal. The inner coating was connected to a rod that passed through the lid and ended in a metal sphere. By having this thin layer of glass insulation (a dielectric) between two large, closely spaced plates, von Kleist found the energy density could be increased dramatically compared with the situation with no insulator. Daniel Gralath improved the design and was also the first to combine several jars to form a battery strong enough to kill birds and small animals upon discharge.

1752: Benjamin Franklin establishes the link between lightning and electricity by the flying a kite into a thunderstorm and transferring some of the charge into a Leyden jar and showed that its properties were the same as charge produced by an electrical machine. He is credited with utilizing the concepts of positive and negative charge in the explanation of then known electrical phenomenon. He theorized that there was an electrical fluid (which he proposed could be the luminiferous ether, which was used by others before and after him, to explain the wave theory of light) that was part of all material and all intervening space. The charge of any object would be neutral if the concentration of this fluid were the same both inside and outside of the body, positive if the object contained an excess of this fluid, and negative if there were a deficit. In 1749 he had documented the similar properties of lightning and electricity, such as that both an electric spark and a lightning flash produced light and sound, could kill animals, cause fires, melt metal, destroy or reverse the polarity of magnetism, and flowed through conductors and could be concentrated at sharp points. He was later able to apply the property of concentrating at sharp points by his invention of the lightning rod, for which he intentionally did not profit. He also investigated the Leyden jar, proving that the charge was stored on the glass and not in the water, as others had assumed.

1753: C. M. (of Scotland, possibly Charles Morrison, of Greenock or Charles Marshall, of Aberdeen) proposes in the 17 February edition of Scots Magazine, an electrostatic telegraph system with 26 insulated wires, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet and each connected to electrostatic machines. The receiving charged end was to electrostatically attract a disc of paper marked with the corresponding letter.

1767: Joseph Priestley proposes an electrical inverse-square law.

1774: Georges-Louis LeSage builds an electrostatic telegraph system with 26 insulated wires conducting Leyden-jar charges to pith-ball electroscopes, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet. Its range was only between rooms of his home.

1785: Charles Coulomb introduces the inverse-square law of electrostatics.

1791: Luigi Galvani discovers galvanic electricity and bioelectricity through experiments following an observation that touching exposed muscles in frogs' legs with a scalpel which had been close to a static electrical machine caused them to jump. He called this "animal electricity". Years of experimentation in the 1780s eventually led him to the construction of an arc of two different metals (copper and zinc for example) by connecting the two metal pieces and then connecting their open ends across the nerve of a frog leg, producing the same muscular contractions (by completing a circuit) as originally accidentally observed. The use of different metals to produce an electrical spark is the basis that led Alessandro Volta in 1799 to his invention of his voltaic pile, which eventually became the galvanic battery.[7]

1799: Alessandro Volta, following Galvani's discovery of galvanic electricity, creates a voltaic cell producing an electric current by the chemical action of several pairs of alternating copper (or silver) and zinc discs "piled" and separated by cloth or cardboard which had been soaked brine (salt water) or acid to increase conductivity. In 1800 he demonstrates the production of light from a glowing wire conducting electricity. This was followed in 1801 by his construction of the first electric battery, by utilizing multiple voltaic cells. Prior to his major discoveries, in a letter of praise to the Royal Society 1793, Volta reported Luigi Galvani's experiments of the 1780s as the "most beautiful and important discoveries," regarding them as the foundation of future discoveries. Volta's inventions led to revolutionary changes with this method of the production of inexpensive, controlled electric current vs. existing frictional machines and Leyden jars. The electric battery became standard equipment in every experimental laboratory and heralded an age of practical applications of electricity.[6][page needed] The unit volt is named for his contributions.

1800: William Nicholson and Anthony Carlisle discover electrolysis by passing a voltaic current through water, decomposing it into its elements hydrogen and oxygen.

1802: Gian Domenico Romagnosi, Italian legal scholar, discovers that electricity and magnetism are related by noting that a nearby voltaic pile deflects a magnetic needle. He published his account in an Italian newspaper, but this was overlooked by the scientific community.[8]

1820: Hans Christian Ørsted, Danish physicist and chemist, unites the separate sciences of electricity and magnetism. He develops an experiment in which he notices a compass needle is deflected from magnetic north when an electric current from the battery he was using was switched on and off, convincing him that magnetic fields radiate from all sides of a live wire just as light and heat do, confirming a direct relationship between electricity and magnetism. He also observes that the movement of the compass-needle to one side or the other depends upon the direction of the current. Following intensive investigations, he published his findings, proving that a changing electric current produces a magnetic field as it flows through a wire. The oersted unit of magnetic induction is named for his contributions.

1820: André-Marie Ampère, professor of mathematics at the Ecole Polytechnique, a short time after learning of Ørsted's discovery that a magnetic needle is acted on by a voltaic current, conducts experiments and publishes a paper in Annales de Chimie et de Physique attempting to give a combined theory of electricity and magnetism. He shows that a coil of wire carrying a current behaves like an ordinary magnet and suggests that electromagnetism might be used in telegraphy. He mathematically develops Ampère's law describing the magnetic force between two electric currents. His mathematical theory explains known electromagnetic phenomena and predicts new ones. His laws of electrodynamics include the facts that parallel conductors currying current in the same direction attract and those carrying currents in the opposite directions repel one another. One of the first to develop electrical measuring techniques, he built an instrument utilizing a free-moving needle to measure the flow of electricity, contributing to the development of the galvanometer. In 1821, he proposed a telegraphy system utilizing one wire per "galvanometer" to indicate each letter, and reported experimenting successfully with such a system. However, in 1824, Peter Barlow reported its maximum distance was only 200 feet, and so was impractical.[citation needed] In 1826 he publishes the Memoir on the Mathematical Theory of Electrodynamic Phenomena, Uniquely Deduced from Experience containing a mathematical derivation of the electrodynamic force law. Following Faraday's discovery of electromagnetic induction in 1831, Ampère agreed that Faraday deserved full credit for the discovery.

1820: Johann Salomo Christoph Schweigger, German chemist, physicist, and professor, builds the first sensitive galvanometer, wrapping a coil of wire around a graduated compass, an acceptable instrument for actual measurement as well as detection of small amounts of electric current, naming it after Luigi Galvani.

~1825: William Sturgeon, founder of the first English Electric Journal, Annals of Electricity, found that an iron core inside a helical coil of wire connected to a battery greatly increased the resulting magnetic field, thus making possible the more powerful electromagnets utilizing a ferromagnetic core. Sturgeon also bent the iron core into a U-shape to bring the poles closer together, thus concentrating the magnetic field lines. These discoveries followed Ampère's discovery that electricity passing through a coiled wire produced a magnetic force and that of Dominique François Jean Arago finding that an iron bar is magnetized by putting it inside the coil of current-carrying wire, but Arago had not observed the increased strength of the resulting field while the bar was being magnetized.

1826: Georg Simon Ohm states his Ohm's law of electrical resistance in the journals of Schweigger and Poggendorff, and also published in his landmark pamphlet Die galvanische Kette mathematisch bearbeitet in 1827. The unit ohm (Ω) of electrical resistance has been named in his honor.[9]

1829 & 1830: Francesco Zantedeschi publishes papers on the production of electric currents in closed circuits by the approach and withdrawal of a magnet, thereby anticipating Michael Faraday's classical experiments of 1831.

Modern Developments[edit]

1831: Michael Faraday began experiments leading to his discovery of the law of electromagnetic induction, though the discovery may have been anticipated by the work of Francesco Zantedeschi. His breakthrough came when he wrapped two insulated coils of wire around a massive iron ring, bolted to a chair, and found that upon passing a current through one coil, a momentary electric current was induced in the other coil. He then found that if he moved a magnet through a loop of wire, or vice versa, an electric current also flowed in the wire. He then used this principle to construct the electric dynamo, the first electric power generator. He proposed that electromagnetic forces extended into the empty space around the conductor, but did not complete that work. Faraday's concept of lines of flux emanating from charged bodies and magnets provided a way to visualize electric and magnetic fields. That mental model was crucial to the successful development of electromechanical devices which were to dominate the 19th century. His demonstrations that a changing magnetic field produces an electric field, mathematically modeled by Faraday's law of induction, would subsequently become one of Maxwell's equations. These consequently evolved into the generalization of field theory.

1832: Baron Pavel L'vovitch Schilling (Paul Schilling) creates the first electromagnetic telegraph, consisting of a single-needle system in which a code was used to indicate the characters. Only months later, Göttingen professors Carl Friedrich Gauss and Wilhelm Weber constructed a telegraph that was working two years before Schilling could put his into practice. Schilling demonstrated the long-distance transmission of signals between two different rooms of his apartment and was the first to put into practice a binary system of signal transmission.

1833: Heinrich Lenz states Lenz's law: if an increasing (or decreasing) magnetic flux induces an electromotive force (EMF), the resulting current will oppose a further increase (or decrease) in magnetic flux, i.e., that an induced current in a closed conducting loop will appear in such a direction that it opposes the change that produced it. Lenz's law is one consequence of the principle of conservation of energy. If a magnet moves towards a closed loop, then the induced current in the loop creates a field that exerts a force opposing the motion of the magnet. Lenz's law can be derived from Faraday's law of induction by noting the negative sign on the right side of the equation. He also independently discovered Joule's law in 1842; to honor his efforts, Russian physicists refer to it as the "Joule-Lenz law."

1835: Joseph Henry invents the electric relay, which is an electrical switch by which the change of a weak current through the windings of an electromagnet will attract an armature to open or close the switch. Because this can control (by opening or closing) another, much higher-power, circuit, it is in a broad sense a form of electrical amplifier. This made a practical electric telegraph possible. He was the first to coil insulated wire tightly around an iron core in order to make an extremely powerful electromagnet, improving on William Sturgeon’s design, which used loosely coiled, uninsulated wire. He also discovered the property of self inductance independently of Michael Faraday.

Chart of the Morse code letters and numerals.

1836: Dr. David Alter invents and demonstrates to witnesses the first American electric telegraph in Elderton, Pennsylvania. In a later interview in the book, Biographical and Historical Cyclopedia of Indiana and Armstrong Counties he states: "I may say that there is no connection at all between the telegraph of Morse and others and that of myself...Professor Morse most probably never heard of me or my Elderton telegraph." In 1840 he invents an electric buggy, forerunner of the automobile. His inventions also include an electric clock and a short-range type of telephone, forerunner to Alexander Graham Bell's telephone. He is also credited with the origins of Spectrum Analysis by his idea that every element has its own emission spectrum, and an expansion of spectrum analysis to include the optical properties of gases.

1837: Samuel Morse develops an alternative electrical telegraph design capable of transmitting long distances over poor quality wire. He and his assistant Alfred Vail develop the Morse code signaling alphabet. In 1838 Morse successfully tested the device at the Speedwell Ironworks near Morristown, New Jersey, and publicly demonstrated it to a scientific committee at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The first electric telegram using this device was sent by Morse on 24 May, 1844 from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., bearing the message "What hath God wrought?"

1840: James Prescott Joule formulates Joule's Law (sometimes called the Joule-Lenz law) quantifying the amount of heat produced in a circuit as proportional to the product of the time duration, the resistance, and the square of the current passing through it.

1845: Michael Faraday discovers that light propagation in a material can be influenced by external magnetic fields.

1849: Hippolyte Fizeau and Jean-Bernard Foucault measure the speed of light to be about 298,000 km/s.

1854: Gustav Robert Kirchhoff, physicist and one of the founders of spectroscopy, publishes Kirchhoff's Laws on the conservation of electric charge and energy, which are used to determine currents in each branch of a circuit.

1861: the first transcontinental telegraph system spans North America by connecting an existing network in the eastern United States to a small network in California by a link between Omaha and Carson City via Salt Lake City. The slower Pony Express system ceased operation a month later.

1865: James Clerk Maxwell publishes his landmark paper A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field, in which Maxwell's equations demonstrated that electric and magnetic forces are two complementary aspects of electromagnetism. He shows that the associated complementary electric and magnetic fields of electromagnetism travel through space, in the form of waves, at a constant velocity of 3.0 × 108 m/s. He also proposes that light is a form of electromagnetic radiation and that waves of oscillating electric and magnetic fields travel through empty space at a speed that could be predicted from simple electrical experiments. Using available data, he obtains a velocity of 310,740,000 m/s and states "This velocity is so nearly that of light, that it seems we have strong reason to conclude that light itself (including radiant heat, and other radiations if any) is an electromagnetic disturbance in the form of waves propagated through the electromagnetic field according to electromagnetic laws."

1866: the first successful transatlantic telegraph system was completed. Earlier submarine cable transatlantic cables installed in 1857 and 1858 failed after operating for a few days or weeks.

1873: J. C. Maxwell publishes A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism which states that light is an electromagnetic phenomenon.

1874: German scientist Karl Ferdinand Braun discovers the "unilateral conduction" of crystals.[10][11] Braun patents the first solid state diode, a crystal rectifier, in 1899.[12]

1878: Thomas Edison, following work on a "multiplex telegraph" system and the phonograph, invents an improved incandescent light bulb. This was not the first electric light bulb but the first commercially practical incandescent light. In 1879 he produces a high-resistance lamp in a very high vacuum; the lamp lasts hundreds of hours. While the earlier inventors had produced electric lighting in lab conditions, Edison concentrated on commercial application and was able to sell the concept to homes and businesses by mass-producing relatively long-lasting light bulbs and creating a complete system for the generation and distribution of electricity.

1880: Edison discovers thermionic emission or the Edison effect.

1882: Edison switches on the world's first electrical power distribution system, providing 110 volts direct current (DC) to 59 customers.

1884: Oliver Heaviside reformulates Maxwell's original mathematical treatment of electromagnetic theory from twenty equations in twenty unknowns into four simple equations in four unknowns (the modern vector form of Maxwell's equations).

1887: Nikola Tesla develops an induction motor that uses alternating current, or AC, instead of direct current.

Albert Einstein in the patent office, Bern Switzerland, 1905

1888: Heinrich Hertz demonstrates the existence of electromagnetic waves by building an apparatus that produced and detected UHF radio waves (or microwaves in the UHF region). He also found that radio waves could be transmitted through different types of materials and were reflected by others, the key to radar. His experiments explain reflection, refraction, polarization, interference, and velocity of electromagnetic waves.

1897: J. J. Thomson discovers the electron.

1899: Pyotr Lebedev measures the pressure of light on a solid body.

1900: Max Planck resolves the ultraviolet catastrophe by suggesting that black body radiation consists of discrete packets, or quanta, of energy. The amount of energy in each packet is proportional to the frequency of the electromagnetic waves. The constant of proportionality is now called Planck's constant in his honor.

1904: John Ambrose Fleming invents the thermionic diode, the first electronic vacuum tube, which had practical use in early radio receivers.

1905: Albert Einstein proposes the Theory of Special Relativity, in which he rejects the existence of the aether as unnecessary for explaining the propagation of electromagnetic waves. Instead, Einstein asserts as a postulate that the speed of light is constant in all inertial frames of reference, and goes on to demonstrate a number of revolutionary (and highly counter-intuitive) consequences, including time dilation, length contraction, the relativity of simultaneity, the dependence of mass on velocity, and the equivalence of mass and energy.

1905: Einstein explains the photoelectric effect by extending Planck's idea of light quanta, or photons, to the absorption and emission of photoelectrons. Einstein would later receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery, which launched the quantum revolution in physics.

1911: Superconductivity is discovered by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, who was studying the resistivity of solid mercury at cryogenic temperatures using the recently discovered liquid helium as a refrigerant. At the temperature of 4.2 K, he observed that the resistivity abruptly disappeared. For this discovery, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1913.

1924: Louis de Broglie postulates the wave nature of electrons and suggests that all matter has wave properties.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Moller, Peter; Kramer, Bernd (December 1991), "Review: Electric Fish", BioScience, American Institute of Biological Sciences, 41 (11): 794–6 [794], JSTOR 1311732, doi:10.2307/1311732 
  2. ^ Frood, Arran (27 February 2003). "Riddle of 'Baghdad's batteries'". BBC News. Retrieved 20 October 2015. 
  3. ^ Pliny the Elder. "Dedication". The Natural History. Perseus Collection: Greek and Roman Materials. Department of the Classics, Tufts University. Retrieved 20 October 2015. 
  4. ^ The Encyclopedia Americana; a library of universal knowledge (1918), New York: Encyclopedia Americana Corp.
  5. ^ Williams, Henry Smith. "Part IV. William Gilbert and the Study of Magnetism". A history of science. 2. Worldwide School. Retrieved 20 October 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c Clark, David H.; Clark, Stephen P.H. (2001). Newton's tyranny : the suppressed scientific discoveries of Stephen Gray and John Flamsteed. New York: Freeman. ISBN 9780716747017. 
  7. ^ Williams, Henry Smith. "VII. The Modern Development of Electricity and Magnetism". A history of science. 3. Worldwide School. Retrieved 20 October 2015. 
  8. ^ Martins, Roberto de Andrade. "Romagnosi and Volta’s pile: early difficulties in the interpretation of Voltaic electricity". In Bevilacqua, Fabio; Fregonese, Lucio. Nuova Voltiana: Studies on Volta and his Times. 3. Pavia: Ulrico Hoepli. pp. 81–102. 
  9. ^ "Georg Simon Ohm: The Discovery of Ohm's Law". Juliantrubin.com. Retrieved 2011-11-15. 
  10. ^ Braun, Ferdinand (1874) "Ueber die Stromleitung durch Schwefelmetalle" (On current conduction in metal sulphides), Annalen der Physik und Chemie, 153 : 556–563.
  11. ^ Karl Ferdinand Braun. chem.ch.huji.ac.il
  12. ^ "Diode". Encyclobeamia.solarbotics.net. 

Further reading and external links[edit]