special feature
The work of Michael Faraday
Exploring electricity
As we saw in the command of electricity, making electricity is not that hard to do. But making it available for widespread practical use is another matter.
Faraday's discoveries of the 1820s and 30s would be key to widespread public supply of electricity — though the work by others that enabled this didn't happen until the late 19th century.
In the intervening period, electricity was used in communications and Faraday worked on the illumination of lighthouses using the carbon arc.
He installed the lamp at South Foreland Lighthouse, the world's first lighthouse to be lit electrically, in December 1858.
This feature is sponsored by
Higher Education Academy
| |
sign up for our newsletter
© 2017 Engineering Timelines
engineering-timelines@severalworld.co.uk
engineering timelines
explore ... how   explore ... why   explore ... where   explore ... who  
home  •  NEWS  •  search  •  FAQs  •  references  •  about  •  sponsors + links
The work of Michael Faraday
introduction |  the command of electricity |  Faraday's work ...  biography of Faraday >
switching on the kettle |  supplying electricity |  an electrical conversation
history of public supply |  electrical timeline  |  definitions

by Frank A.J.L. James, Professor of the History of Science, The Royal Institution
Michael Faraday  (1791-1867)  was at the forefront of British science during his lifetime and continues to be regarded as one of the most important scientists of the 19th century.
He is chiefly remembered for his discoveries in electricity, made in the basement laboratories of the Royal Institution in London. His discoveries include electro-magnetic rotations (the principle behind the electric motor) and electro-magnetic induction (the principle behind the electric generator and transformer).
These discoveries had few practical applications in his lifetime, and the potential for large scale use of electricty wasn't realised until later in the 19th century. However, it was Faraday's work that laid the basis for modern electrical engineering. Click on the links below to find out more about his discoveries .....
It was already known that an electric current could affect a magnetised needle and Faraday was exploring this effect when, in September 1821, he made a wire carrying an electrical current move continuously round a magnet. He called his discovery electro-magnetic rotations. It is the principle behind the electric motor. Find out more >
On 29th August 1831, Faraday conducted an experiment with an iron ring, some copper wire and a big 4 inch plate battery. Crucially, he connected his apparatus to a current detector before connecting the battery and was able to detect a transient effect fundamental to our modern day public supply of electricity — electro-magnetic induction. Find out more >
Later that same year, he demonstrated that magnetism in motion can produce electricity. He did this using a simple dynamo constructed using a magnet and insulated copper wire. Virtually all electrical power is produced using this principle ... Faraday had invented the electricial generator. Find out more >
As well as his experimental work, Faraday was also an important scientific advisor to the British government and its agencies. He was scientific advisor to the English and Welsh lighthouse authority, Trinity House, for nearly 30 years and in this role he oversaw many innovations in lighthouse technology. You can read about some of these in both Faraday's biography and the individual lighthouse pages (explore WHERE ... places associated with Faraday).
Faraday was also the supreme scientific communicator of his time. He used the lecture theatre of the Royal Institution to popularise science and engineering to his audience and to the print media beyond. In the 1820s he played a role in founding the Christmas lectures for young people, which continue to this day and have been televised since the mid 1960s.

For a more complete account of the life and work of Michael Faraday,
see biography of Michael Faraday.
top of page

introduction |  the command of electricity |  Faraday's work ...  biography of Faraday >
switching on the kettle |  supplying electricity |  an electrical conversation
history of public supply |  electrical timeline  |  definitions

home  •  news  •  search  •  FAQs  •  references  •  about  •  sponsors + links
Experimental Lighthouse, Trinity Buoy Wharf Experimental Lighthouse
London, UK | 1863
... Faraday trialled electric lighting for lighthouses in this tower by the River Thames
South Foreland Lighthouse South Foreland Lighthouse
Kent, UK | 1843
... The first-ever lighthouse to be lit by electricity (December 1858)