special feature
Electrical timeline
Exploring electricity
The UK has been the location of many milestone events in the story of the harnessing of electricity for everyday use.
From Faraday's groundbreaking experiments with electricity to the first public electric lighting, from the Bell's invention of the telephone to Logie Baird's early television system ... Follow the story through the UK's electrical timeline.
see also ...
Faraday's work
electro-magnetic rotations
electrical transformer
electrical generator
The command of electricity
History of public supply
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Electrical timeline
for the United Kingdom
1790s Alessandro Volta  (1745-1827)  invents the electric battery
A battery (or voltaic pile) is a device for making electricity by chemical means. Volta found that if pieces of different metals were piled on top of each other separated by cardboard soaked in an acid, an electric current was produced. Despite all the developments since, the principle of the battery remains the same.
1800s Humphry Davy  (1778-1829)  develops the first theory of  electro-chemistry, and discovers sodium, potassium, etc., using powerful batteries
1810 Davy invents the carbon arc
1820 Hans Christian Oersted  (1777-1851)  publishes his discovery of
Electro-magnetism describes the relationship between electricity and magnetic force. Certain metals can be made magnetic by passing an electric current through a coil wound around a piece of them.
1821 Michael Faraday discovers electro-magnetic rotations,
the principle behind the electric motor ... See also electro-magnetic rotations
Faraday discovered that a vertically mounted wire carrying an electric current would rotate continuously round a magnet protruding from a bowl of mercury. This phenomenon showed that it was possible to produce continuous motion from the interaction of electricity and magnetism.
1822 Thomas Johann Seebeck  (1770-1831)  discovers thermo-electricity
1825 William Sturgeon  (1783-1850)  invents the electro-magnet
1827 Georg Simon Ohm  (1789-1854)  publishes Ohm's law
Ohm's law relates electro-motive potential difference (V) to current (I) and resistance (R) using the formula V=IR
1831 Michael Faraday discovers electro-magnetic induction, and makes the first electrical transformer and generator ... See also transformer, generator
In a transformer, two coils of wire are wound on opposite sides of a metal core. When an electric current is passed into one coil, a transient electric current is induced in the other. By varying the number of windings round the coils, the voltage can be increased or decreased. Because induction is a transient phenomenon, the transformation can be repeated very quickly. Electrical substations are large transformers, and thus the device is key to efficient transmission of high voltage alternating current (AC).
The electric generator is a device with a magnet, or something performing the function of a magnet, that moves in the vicinity of a coil of wire to generate an electric current in the wire. Virtually all electric power is produced using this principle, no matter whether the prime source of energy is coal, oil, gas, nuclear, hydro, or wind, etc.
1834 Charles Wheatstone  (1802-1875)  measures the velocity of electricity
1836 John Frederic Daniell  (1790-1845)  invents the constant cell
An early type of battery that improved considerably on the voltaic cells that preceeded it.
1839 The first  electric telegraph, made by Cooke and Wheatstone, is laid along the Great Western Railway from Paddington to West Drayton
1840/50s Michael Faraday develops the idea of the electro-magnetic field
1850/60s William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin)  (1824-1907)  and James Clerk Maxwell  (1831-1879)  mathematise Faraday's magnetic field theory
Some  lighthouses are lit experimentally using
electric arc light ... more >>
1851 A  telegraph cable is successfully laid across the English Channel
1857 First Atlantic telegraph cable laid — unsuccessfully
1866 Second Atlantic telegraph cable laid — successfully
1871 Founding of Society of Telegraph Engineers (later Institution of Electrical Engineers)
1876 Alexander Graham Bell  (1847-1922)  invents the  telephone
1878 Joseph Swan  (1828-1914)  invents the  light bulb
1881 The first  public electric lighting, in Godalming, Surrey ... more >>
1882 The Electric Lighting Act 1882 (repealed 1989) ... allows the setting up of supply systems by persons, companies or local authorities
Holborn Viaduct plant opens
1883 First  electric railway
1886 Heinrich Rudolf Hertz  (1857-1894)  produces and detects  radio waves
Crompton forms the first  electric supply company ... in Kensington
1888 Amendments to the The Electric Lighting Act 1882 make the setting up of a supply company easier
1891 Deptford power station opens ... UK's first AC power system ... designed by Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti, set up by London Electric Suppply Corporation (LESCo)
1896 Guglielmo Marconi  (1874-1937)  patents radio telegraphy and sends a radio message 14km across Salisbury Plain
1899 The Electric Lighting (Clauses) Act 1899 (repealed 1989)
Marconi sends a radio message across the Channel
1901 Marconi sends a radio message across the Atlantic
1909 The Electric Lighting Act 1909 (repealed 1989) ... regulates planning consent requirements for the opening of power stations
1915 Electric Power Supply Committee set up by the government
1919 The Williamson Report leads to The Electricity (Supply) Act 1919 (repealed 1989) ... Electricity Supply Corporation is established and Electricity Commissioners appointed
1922 The Electric (Supply) Act 1922 (repealed 1989)
1926 Lord Weir's report leads to The Electricity (Supply) Act 1926 (repealed 1989)
The Central Electricity Board is created ... starts working towards the National Grid, which will operate at 132kV (50Hz)
1930 Assisted wiring scheme begins ... by 1936, more than 12,000 premises would be connected
1931 Michael Faraday's discovery of electro-magnetic induction widely celebrated (centenary)
1933 The 132kV National Grid starts supplying electricity ... initially as an interconnected set of regional grids
Battersea power station opens
1936 The Electricity Supply (Meters) Act 1936 (repealed 1989)
John Logie Baird  (1888-1946)  develops develops an electromechanical television system, the forerunner of today's television
1938 The 132kV National Grid is integrated for the first time
1943 The Hydroelectric Development (Scotland) Act 1943 (repealed 1989)
1947 The Electricity Act 1947 (repealed 1989) ... enables nationalisation ... merges 625 electricity companies and vests supply in 12 Area Electricity Boards ... generation and the 132kV National Grid vested in the British Electricity Authority
1948 Electricity supply is nationalised on 1st April
1954 The Electricity Reorganisation (Scotland) Act 1954 (repealed 1989)
1955 The British Electricity Authority becomes the Central Electricity Authority, and the Scottish Area Boards merge into the South of Scotland Electricity Board and the North of Scotland Hydro Board
1956 Calder hall (Sellafield) opens ... first commercial nuclear power station
1957 The Electricity Act 1957 (repealed 1989) ... the Central Electricity Authority is dissolved and replaced by the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) and the Electricity Council
1961 The Electricity (Ammendment) Act 1961 (repealed 1989)
1963 The Electricity and Gas Act 1963 (repealed 1989)
1968 The Gas and Electricity Act 1968 (repealed 1989)
1972 The Electricity Act 1972 (repealed 1989)
1979 The Electricity (Scotland) Act 1979 (repealed 1989)
1989 The Electricity Act 1989 ... plans the privatisation of the industry
1990 Privatisation begins ... the assets of the CEGB are divided between three new companies: Powergen, National Power and National Grid Company ... later the nuclear generation component of National Power is moved to state-owned Nuclear Electric
1991 Scottish electricity industry is privatised
1993 Northern Ireland electricity supply is privatised ... Premier Power is formed
2000 Utilities Act 2000 ... makes generating companies responsible for enabling the connection to the grid of distributed energy sources

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South Foreland Lighthouse South Foreland Lighthouse
Kent, UK | 1843
... The first-ever lighthouse to be lit by electricity (December 1858)
Godalming Power Station, site of Godalming Power Station site
Surrey, UK | 1881
... The world's first public electricity supply, which was driven by water power