Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison duke it out over the best way to transmit electricity and Heinrich Hertz is the first person (unbeknownst to him) to broadcast and receive radio waves.


Large-scale lighting

The first commercial installation of American inventor Thomas Edison's electric lighting system occurs, successfully providing light to the steamship Columbia.

Hysteresis effect

German physicist Emil Warburg discovers that ferromagnetic materials exhibit a hysteresis effect, a lag in the magnetic induction of a material following a change in the magnetizing field.


In France, physicists and brothers Pierre and Paul-Jacques Curie experimentally demonstrate the generation of electricity in certain crystals subjected to mechanical stress, a phenomenon that quickly came to be known as piezoelectricity.

Rotating fields

Nikola TeslaNikola Tesla conceives of using alternating current to produce a rotating magnetic field.

Electric particles?

German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz gives a lecture in London in which he argues that electricity is divided into elementary particles similar to atoms.

Public railway

The first public electric railway, built by Siemens Halske near Berlin, opens. Seven years later the first electric trolley makes its debut in Virginia. In 1890, the first electric underground train begins service in London.

New units

The International Electrical Congress meets for the first time in Paris, where the group approves the definitions and cgs system suggested by the British Association and also introduces two new units called the coulomb and the farad.

Hydroelectric power

The first hydroelectric power station is built in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Thévenin's theorem

French engineer Léon Charles Thévenin publishes a paper that includes the theory of electric circuits that bears his name, though it was actually developed many years earlier by Hermann von Helmholtz. According to Thévenin's theorem, any combination of voltage sources and resistors featuring two terminals can be replaced with a single voltage source and a single series resistor.

Skin effect

A pair of English mathematicians, Oliver Heaviside and Horace Lamb, discover that as the electromagnetic frequency along a solid conductor increases, the current tends to flow near the surface of the conductor, a phenomenon referred to as the skin effect.

Edison effect

While experimenting with one of his incandescent light bulbs, Thomas Edison finds that electricity could be detected flowing through the vacuum from the lighted filament to a metallic plate placed inside of the bulb. Though known as the Edison effect, Edison did not further investigate the phenomenon, which would later become the basis of the vacuum tubes widely used in the radio and television industries for many years.

Poynting's theorem

English physicist John Poynting introduces his theorem related to the conservation of energy for an electromagnetic field.

Balmer Series

Johann Balmer, a Swiss mathematician, derives an empirical formula that provides the wavelengths of the lines of the hydrogen spectrum, which are known as the Balmer Series. Several decades later Niels Bohr would successfully explain why Balmer’s formula holds true with his model of the hydrogen atom.

AC system

American electrician William Stanley develops the first alternating current (AC) electric system and introduces the transformer.

Photoelectric effect

Heinrich HertzGerman physicist Heinrich Hertz builds an apparatus for generating and detecting the electromagnetic waves predicted by the work of James Clerk Maxwell, becoming the first person to transmit and receive what later were called radio waves. During his experiments with electromagnetism, Hertz discovers the photoelectric effect.

Electrolytes & ions

Svante ArrheniusSvante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist, publishes a paper that includes a refined form of his theory that electrolytes dissociate into charged particles (ions) even in the absence of an electrical current, which he initially developed in 1883 as part of his doctoral thesis.

AC motor

Nikola TeslaNikola Tesla demonstrates a practical alternating current (AC) motor in the United States, which later becomes commercially available through his association with the Westinghouse Electric Company.

AC hydroelectric power

The first AC hydroelectric power plant is established in Oregon City, Oregon.
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