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Brief History of Electronics 1745-2020

Brief History of Electronics – 1745-2020

Here is Brief History of Electronics from 1745-2020, Greatest Engineers, Scientists, Physicists and Inventors along with details of their Contribution to Electronics and Importance of their Discoveries, Inventions and Works in Field of Electronics.

1745 – Discovery of the Layden Jar

Ewald Georg von Kleist and Pieter van Musschenbroek discovered the Layden Jar in 1745. It was the first electrical capacitor– a storage mechanism for an electrical charge. The first ones were a glass jar filled with water-two wires suspended in the water. Muschenbrock got such a shock out of the first jar he experimented with that he nearly died.

Later, the water was replaced with metal foils wrapped so that there was insulation between the layers of foil-the two wires are attached to the ends of the sheets of foil.


Musschenbroek working with Leyden jar

Ben Franklin (1746-52)

Flew kites to demonstrate that lightning is a form of Static Electricity (ESD). He would run a wire to the kite and produce sparks at the ground, or charge a Leyden jar. This led Franklin to invent the lightning rod.

Franklin also made several electrostatic generators with rotating glass balls to experiment with.

These experiments led him to formulate the single fluid (imponderable fluid) theory of electricity. Previous theories had held there were two electrical fluids and two magnetic fluids. Franklin theorized just one imponderable electrical fluid (a fluid under conservation) in the universe.

The difference in electrical charges was explained by an excess (+) or defect () of the single electrical fluid. This is where the positive and negative symbols come from in Electric Circuit.


Benjamin Franklin (Ben Franklin)

Charles Augustus Coulomb (1736-1806)

Invented the torsion balance in 1785. The torsion balance is a simple device – a horizontal cross-bar is mounted on a stretched wire. A ball is then mounted on each end of the cross bar. Given a positive or negative charge, those balls will then attract or repel other objects that carry charges. The balls responding to these charges will try to twist the wire holding the cross bar.

The wire resists twisting, and how much twisting occurs tells you how much force the attraction or repulsion exerted. Coulomb showed electrical attraction and repulsion follow an inverse square law. The unit of charge (Coulomb) is named after him.


Charles Augustus Coulomb

Alessandro Volta (1745-1827)

Announced the results of his experiments investigating Galvani’s claims about the source of electricity in the frog leg experiment. He undertook to prove that he could produce electricity without the frog. He took the same bimetallic arcs (many of them) and dipped them in glasses of brine.

This was Volta’s Couronne des Tasses- his first battery.

The voltaic pile was an improved configuration for a battery. With it he showed that the bimetallic arcs were the source of electricity. The unit of voltage is named after him.

Alessandro Volta

André Marie Ampère (1775-1836)

Gave a formalized understanding of the relationships between electricity and magnetism using algebra. The unit for current (ampere) is named after him.

Andre Marie Ampere

Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851)

In the year 1820 in Denmark demonstrated a relationship between electricity and magnetism by showing that an electrical wire carrying current will deflect a magnetic needle.

The CGS unit for magnetic field strength (Oersted) is named after him.

Hans Christian Oersted

George Simon Ohm (1787-1854)

He wanted to measure the motive force of electrical currents. He found that some conductors worked better than others and quantified the differences.

He waited quite some time to announce “Ohm’s Law” because his theory was not accepted by his peers. The unit for resistance (Ohms) is named after him.

George Simon Ohm

Michael Faraday (1791-1867) – Great Contribution to History of Electronics

1820s Faraday postulated that an electrical current moving through a wire creates “fields of force” surrounding the wire. He believed that as these “fields of force” when established and collapsed could move a magnet. This led to a number of experiments with electricity as a motive (moving) force.

In 1821, Faraday built the first electric motor – a device for transforming an electrical current into rotary motion.

In 1331, Faraday made the first transformer – a device for inducing an electrical current in a wire not connected to an electrical source, also known as Faraday’s Ring. It was powered by a voltaic pile and used a manually operated key to interrupt the current.

The unit of capacitance (farad) is named after him.


Michael Faraday

Karl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) Wilhelm Eduard Weber (1804-1891)

Gauss is known as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. At very early age he overturned the theories and methods of 18th-century mathematics. Beginning in 1830, Gauss worked closely with Weber. They organized a worldwide system of stations for systematic observations of terrestrial magnetism.

The most important result of their work in electromagnetism was the development, by others, of telegraphy. Weber, a German physicist, also established a system of absolute electrical units.

His work on the ratio between the electrodynamics and electrostatic units was crucial to Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory of light.

The CGS unit of magnetic field density in named after Gauss.

The MKS unit of flux is named after Weber.

Karl Friedrich Gauss and Wilhelm Eduard Weber

Joseph Henry (1799-1878)

He was a professor in a small school in Albany, New York. He worked to improve electromagnets and was the first to superimpose coils of wire wrapped on an iron core. It is said that he insulated the wire for one of his magnets using a silk dress belonging to his wife.

In 1830 he observed electromagnetic induction, a year before Faraday. He was roundly criticized for not publishing his discovery, losing the distinction for American science. Henry did obtain priority for the discovery of self induction, however.

He received an appointment at New Jersey College (later Princeton University) and in 1846 became the first director of the Smithsonian Institution.

The unit of induction [henry (H)] is named after him.

Read: Inductor Basics – Types, Formula, Symbol, Unit, Uses, Function


Joseph Henry

Heinrich F.E. Lenz (1804-1865)

Born in the old university city of Tartu, Estonia (then in Russia), He was a professor at the University of St. Petersburg. He carried out many experiments following the lead of Faraday.

He is memorialized by the law which bears his name – the electrodynamics action of an induced current equally opposes the mechanical inducing action- which was later recognized to be an expression of the conservation of energy.


Heinrich F.E. Lenz

Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791-1872)

He brought a practical system of telegraphy to the fore front using electromagnets, and invented the code named after him in 1844.

Although in 1837 the development of an electric telegraph system making use of a deflecting magnetic needle had already been developed by Sir W. F. Cooke and Sir Charles Wheatstone, who installed the first railway telegraph system in England, Morse overcame both electrical design flaws and information flow restrictions to enable the telegraph to become a viable system of communication.


Samuel Finley Breese Morse

Gustav Robert Kirchhoff (1824-1887)

He was a German physicist. He announced the laws which allow calculation of the current, voltage, and resistance of electrical networks in 1845 when he was only 21. In further studies he demonstrated that current flows through a conductor at the speed of light. Read: What is a Resistor


Gustav Robert Kirchhoff

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879)

He wrote a mathematical treatise formalizing the theory of fields in 1856: On Faraday’s Lines of Force. Most researchers at the time did not believe in Faraday’s lines of force, but James Clerk Maxwell did

Between 1864 and 1873 Maxwell showed that 20 simple mathematical equations could express the behavior of electric and magnetic fields and their interrelated nature.

In the year 1873 Maxwell published Electricity and Magnetism, demonstrating four partial differential equations that completely described electrical phenomena. Maxwell also calculated that the speed of propagation of an electromagnetic field is approximately that of the speed of light.

He proposed that the phenomenon of light is therefore an electromagnetic phenomenon. Because charges can oscillate with any frequency, Maxwell concluded that visible light forms only a small part of the entire spectrum of possible electromagnetic radiation.


James Clerk Maxwell

Hermann Lud-wig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821-1894)

He was an all round universal scientist and researcher. He was one of the 19th centuries greatest scientists.

In 1870, after analyzing all the prevalent theories of electrodynamics, he lent his support to Maxwell’s theory which was little known on the European continent.


Hermann Lud-wig Ferdinand von Helmholtz

Sir William Crookes (1832-1919)

Investigated electrical discharges through highly evacuated “Crookes tubes” in the year 1878. These studies laid the foundation for J. J. Thomson’s research in the late 1890s concerning discharge-tube phenomena and the electron.

He also discovered the element Thallium and made the radiometer.


Sir William Crookes

Joseph Wilson Swan (1828-1914)

Joseph Swan demonstrated his electric lamp in Britain in February 1879. The filament used carbon and had a partial vacuum and preceded Edison’s demonstration by six months.


Joseph Wilson Swan

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) – One of the Greatest Scientist and Inventor in History of Electronics

In 1878, Edison began work on an electric lamp and sought a material that could be electrically heated to incandescence in a vacuum. At first he used platinum wire in glass bulbs at 10 volts. He connected these bulbs in series to utilize a higher supply voltage; however, he realized that independent lamp control would be necessary for home and office use.

He then developed a three-wire system with a supply of 220 volts DC. Each lamp operated at 110 volts, and the higher voltage required a resistance vastly greater than that of platinum.

Edison conducted an extensive search for a filament material to replace platinum until, on Oct. 21, 1879, he demonstrated a lamp containing a carbonized cotton thread that glowed for 40 hours.

1882 Edison installed the first large central power station on Pearl Street in New York City in 1882; its steam-driven generators of 900 horsepower provided enough power for 7,200 lamps.

He consistently fought the use of alternating current AC, and continued to market direct current DC systems. This eventually destroyed this arm of his marketing empire due to inadequate technology. During his experiments on the incandescent bulb, Edison noted a flow of electricity from a hot filament across a vacuum to a metal wire. Read: Types of Electric Current | AC (Alternate Current) | DC (Direct Current)

This effect, known as thermionic emission, or the Edison effect, was the foundation of the work later refined by Lee De Forest to create the Audion.


Thomas Alva Edison

Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925)

He worked with Maxwell’s equations to reduce the fatigue incurred in solving them. In the process, he created a form of vector analysis called “Operational Calculus” that replaced the differential d/dt with the algebraic variable p, thus transforming differential equations to algebraic equations (Laplace Transforms). This increased the speed of solution considerably.

He also proposed the ionized air layer named after him (the Heavisids layer), that inductance can be added to transmission lines to increase transmission distance, and that charges will increase in mass when accelerated.


Oliver Heaviside

Heinrich Rudolph Hertz (1857-1894)

He was the first person to demonstrate the existence of radio waves. His inspiration came from Helmholtz and Maxwell.

Hertz demonstrated in 1887 that the velocity of radio waves (also called Hertzian waves) was equal to that of light. The unit of frequency (Hertz) is named after him.


Heinrich Rudolph Hertz

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) – Great Contribution to History of Electronics

He devised the polyphase alternating-current systems that form the modern electrical power industry. In 1884, Tesla emigrated to the United States. He worked briefly for Thomas Edison, who as the advocate of direct current became Tesla’s unsuccessful rival in electric power development.

In 1888, Tesla showed how a magnetic field could be made to rotate if two coils at right angles were supplied with alternating currents 90 degrees out of phase with each other at 60 hertz.

George Westinghouse bought rights to the patents on this motor and made it the basis for the Westinghouse power system at Niagara Falls.

Tesla’s other inventions included the Tesla coil, a kind of transformer, and he did research on high-voltage electricity and wireless communication. In 1905, he demonstrated a wireless remote control boat, while at the same time Marconi was still transmitting Morse code.

Despite his many patents and genius, he died poor. Congress declared Tesla the “father of radio“, (not wireless as Marconi was), because Marconi’s four tuned circuit radio used Tesla’s 1897 radio patent describing the four tuned stages, two on input and two on output.

The unit of magnetic field density (Tesla) is named after him.


Nikola Tesla

Charles Proteus Steinmetz (1865-1923)

Discovered the mathematics of hysteresis loss, thus enabling engineers of the time to reduce magnetic loss in transformers.

He also applied the mathematics of complex numbers to AC analysis and thus put engineering design of electrical systems on a scientific basis instead of a black art.

Along with Nikola Tesla, he is responsible for wresting the generation of power away from Edison’s inefficient DC system to the more elegant AC system.


Charles Proteus Steinmetz

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) – Father of Wireless in History of Electronics

Known as the “father of wireless“, He was an Italian national who expanded on the experiments that Hertz did, and believed that telegraphic messages could be transmitted without wires.

In 1897, Marconi formed his wireless telegraph company, and in December 1901 he did the first trans Atlantic radio transmission in Morse code. When Marconi died all the radio transmitters in the world were silent for two minutes.


Guglielmo Marconi

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