Strangely enough, fish were the only source people had of electricity thousands of years ago. Lightning was not seen as electricity, but rather was perceived as the power of the gods made manifest. Certain species of eels, rays and even catfish, then and now, possess the defensive power to generate electric shocks and ancient people thought these shocks could cure you of headache or gout. They did not, however, use the term ‘electricity’ for what they were experiencing.
The word ‘electricity’ did not appear until 1600 when it was used to describe a static force that was created by vigorously rubbing amber with a cloth. The word ‘electricity’ actually is derived from ‘electron,’ the Greek word for amber.
Practical advances in the use of electricity did not appear until the late 1800s with the myriad electrical inventions of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, among others. In the period between 1600 and 1900, most people who even thought about electricity perceived it as a mystical magical force, rather than as a natural aspect of the universe. In 1771, Luigi Galvani shocked the world by making the legs of dead frogs twitch and jerk by applying an electrical stimulus from a simple home-made battery.
Though Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley never mentioned electricity by name in her 1819 novel, most of her readers were quite familiar with the then-well-known, but unproved, concept of resuscitation from the dead via the application of electricity. Frankenstein’s creature walked and struggled to talk because of the power of electricity.
Rudyard Kipling added to the mythology of electricity with his 1907 poem “Sons of Martha.” The poem is celebration of people who provide for the physical needs of others; its recitation is used by several engineering colleges as a rite of passage for their graduates. Specifically, Kipling’s lines about those who “finger death at their gloves end” when connecting electrical wiring reinforce the image of the person who knows how to handle electricity as a fearless mage.
By the middle of the 20th century, though, electricity became commonplace enough that the lack of it became the dramatic magical device for most people. Power outages were the centerpieces for many films and novels about the thin veneer of civilization that would be shattered by such a simple matter as the lights going out, the most dramatic being the E. M. Forster novel “The Machine Stops.”
Fish, amber, frogs’ legs, Frankenstein, Kipling and blown fuses — that’s quite a progression for one of the natural forces of the universe. Now there are many electrician schools available to teach you about electricity and how to help others use it in modern day life.
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