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Discovering Electricity - Humphry Davy and the Arc Light

Testing his theory of electricity which could move a dissected frog's leg with a force outside the frog's body, Alessandro Volta invented the Voltaic Pile.  It was the world's first battery.  To everyone who saw it (or worked with it), the Voltaic Pile was amazing on many levels.

Not only could it produce a constant (not intermittent) flow of electricity, which became known as a current of electricity, Volta's discovery led to other surprising events.  When an electric current was placed in water, for example, it ripped-up the water into its constituent parts (hydrogen and oxygen gases).  

Moving from Italy to Britain, in our investigation of mankind's discovery of electricity, we meet Humphry Davy.  Thinking he could make a dramatic impact by using more than 800 Voltaic Piles, connected together, Davy (in 1808) built the world's then-largest battery.  To it he connected the tips of two carbon filaments.  

When Davy brought the two carbon-filament tips together, continuously flowing electricity from the very-large battery caused an incredibly bright spark.  An audience, watching Davy's experiment, was as stunned at this development as they had been stunned by Francis Hauksbee's glowing light.

It was the end of one age and the beginning of another. The world stage was now set for inventors like Thomas Edison.


Media Credits

Clip from "History of Electricity," a production by the BBC and Open University, online via BBC's Channel at YouTube.  Copyright BBC, all rights reserved.  Clip provided here as fair use for educational purposes and to acquaint new viewers with the production.

 

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