Design and light
Another incredible invention that contributed to the development of industrial revolutions is lighting.
The first form of gas lighting made from wood burning was installed in Paris in 1798, while and the first coal gas lit factory was the Bouton and Watt in 1802. But it was in England that coal gas lighting was most developed thanks to the abundance of this material which, when worked to produce coke, created two by-products: tar and gas.
The first lighting systems were highly expensive, and most of the families could not afford them. Consider that in 1815 London was equipped with 40 km of pipelines for the transport of gas, dedicated to street lighting, and to the noble houses.
In 1840 the major European cities installed a lighting and gas network, to facilitate population displacement during the night hours. The light produced by the gas, however, was totally unsuitable for the purpose, as well as being very dangerous, both for possible gas leaks and for human health.
After 1850, the gas network was also used to heat houses, water and cook food.
The first form of electricity was created in 1799 by Alessandro Volta who made it possible to obtain direct current. As you will notice, this extremely advanced technology was born fifty years before gas lighting, but due to its high costs it has remained on the sidelines, waiting for the right moment to come out.
Alessandro Volta’s inventions allowed to study new phenomena such as electromagnetic induction, electrolysis and the possibility of transmitting signals along an electrical circuit. The evolution of electricity did not stop at the discovery of this Italian inventor, and in fact one of the pioneers of the sector was Thomas Alva Edison who between 1878 and 1881 was able to solve the big problems of electricity distribution for the lighting.
The incandescent light bulb developed and evolved by Edison, completely changed the concept of lighting. Edison wasn’t the first to invent the light bulb, but his product was certainly the most reliable on the market. It was suitable for all environments: the light intensity could be adjusted, it did not cause headaches or other side effects generated by gas-powered lamps.
In 1886 in New York the shop windows were electrically lit, thanks to Thomas Edison’s light bulbs. It was an epochal event, because for the first time the population could observe an entire street brightly lit thanks to a new technology. It was a real revolution: an event that completely changed the way of observing the world.
Edison initially used direct current, which was safer but at the same time had very strong limits, such as the fact that it could only be transported to a maximum distance of 1.5 km, beyond which it lost intensity.
Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse
Over the years, the American inventor realized that it was necessary to switch to alternating current to cover long distances. If you are interested in this subject, there is magnificent movie about Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse who worked to further develop this invention.
The new technology quickly took hold. The advantages were obvious, and the energy could be produced from different primary sources and through different types of converters. Countries that did not have large coal deposits such as Canada, Italy, Switzerland and Japan experienced an extraordinary boost to industrial growth given the possibility of obtaining electricity from water basins of which they are rich.
Electrification profoundly changed the functioning of factories which became more efficient. Before electricity, these worked with a single motor that rotated thanks to gas, coal and wood energy with pulleys attached to it, that were used to transmit movement to all the machinery in the factory.
With the advent of the electricity, each machinery was attached to the cables independently. Before, if the central engine broke, the whole company stopped. While now if one machine broke down, all the others worked.
Between 1901 and 1914, electrification was very rapid. As a consequence the GDP of Germany grew by 9 times and England’s GDP by 15 times, although in reality only half of the factories were electrified.
Large companies were born at that time, some of which are still present today, such as Simens, AEG, General Electric and Westinghouse.
The largest manufacturer of electrical devices was Germany with 30% of the global market, followed by the United States with 30% and England with 16%.