electric generator

What Is the History of Electric Generators?

An electric generator uses electromagnetic induction to produce electrical power from mechanical energy for transmitting across the industrial and domestic power lines. Wind, water, steam, oil, coal, or a combustion or turbine steam engine is the typical source of mechanical energy.

Today, generators are used in different machines to generate electrical power for running a variety of vehicles. However, have you wondered how this robust device came into existence? How the first generator looked like and how did it function? So, let’s explore it now!  At TRS Rentelco you will get a test equipment and solutions across a range of relevant industries and sectors.

Early Historical Principles and Initiations Until 19th Century

Generators worked based on the electrostatic principles prior to the discovery of the connection between electricity and magnetism. These electrostatic generators are considered handy for performing scientific researches demanding high voltages. You can read more about how they work here.

However, low power ratings became the standard feature of electrostatic generators. Thus, they are never used in commercial sectors where a substantial quantity of electric power is required. 

The early 18th century witnessed the introduction of steam engines that later contributed to the origination of generators. The Newcomen steam engine of 1712 was remarkable but it resulted in a huge loss of energy while in use, as observed by James Watt. 

Thus, James Watt introduced a steam engine in his name in 1781, which was considered more energy-efficient. This Watt engine came with significant engine enhancements such as rotary motions. Although the 18th century saw such interesting devices powered by steam, this way to power devices had its confinements. Thus, it was not accessible by all. 

Electrical Invention in the Early 19th Century

During the decade of 1820s, Michael Faraday who was an esteemed scientist in London, felt the need to come up with a more useful form of power source. This motivated him to start experimenting further by using the concepts of motion, magnetism, and batteries of those days. 

He came with a revolutionary discovery in 1831. He used a copper wire to cover a tube, shielded it using a piece of cloth, and attached the wire to a galvanometer used for gauging the current. Faraday then passed a magnet to and fro through the center of the tube and he observed that the galvanometer’s needle was relocated. This was the first electrical generator.

This was a magnetic generator that used a Faraday disk (copper disk) that turned between two magnets whose poles were at right angles to it. It used a high current but low voltage. 

This magnetic principle was then used for making dynamos, the first one been developed in 1832. The introduction of a dynamo was a major innovation that introduced electricity in industries.

A generator typically converts motion power – here, the magnet’s motion of backward and forward – into electricity. Regardless of this mechanical source of energy, today almost all electrical power comes from turbines or generators that work on Faraday’s principles.

In 1860, two inventions including AC and DC generators were made. With progressive advancements, in the 1870s, Thomas Edison used DC generators to introduce the electric lighting system.

In 1887, Nikola Tesla introduced notable changes to the AC generators. Tesla replaced the standard rotating poles with polyphase AC featuring many outputs in just a single phase. With this, power was generated in huge amounts due to which many companies started using the generators. 

Advancements Till 21st Century 

Mechanical energy started coming from different turbines, which could turn at once with the generator poles to generate a current. Companies started designing the full electricity generator units. Further, these united supplied power to several targets, which resulted in grid systems. Integrating an engine into the generator quickly became the trend, which is also the current design.