Energy heroes

Many scientists have worked with electricity throughout history to make it what it is today. Four of the better-known inventors were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Michael Faraday and Alessandro Volta.


Benjamin Franklin started working with electricity in the 1740s. He performed a lot of different experiments to try to understand more about it. Mr Franklin believed that lightning was like water (ie. a fluid). To test this, he tied a metal key to a kite and flew the kite during a thunderstorm. When the key became charged with electricity he had proof that lightning flowed like water. Mr Franklin's experiments led to his invention of the lightning rod. We still use many of the words he helped develop to describe electricity today: charge, discharge, conductor, electrician and electric shock.

Alessandro Volta – an Italian physicist - developed the earliest version of the electric battery (which stores electricity) in 1775. The electrical unit known as the volt was named in his honour.

Michael Faraday invented the electric motor in 1821. He began working with magnets and discovered that if a magnet was held fixed, a wire would rotate around it. This was the first motor. He also began working with ways to generate electricity. He discovered that an electric current would be generated if a magnet passed through a loop of wire. This is the basis for how generators make electricity.

Thomas Edison invented more than 1000 items in his lifetime, the most famous being the incandescent light bulb. He didn't actually come up with the idea of the electric light. Others before him had experimented with it, but none of them could get it quite right. He eventually got it right and, in 1879, developed a bulb that burned for 40 hours.