- Published: 14 July 2008
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Mike Edwards, age 10, of Des Moines, Iowa, for his question:
Who invented the generator?
A giant modern generator is big enough to fill a garage and it can produce enough electricity for a city of three million persons. The very first one was a small table model with a hand crank to make it work. It was invented by Michael Faraday, 142 years ago. He called it a dynamo and the original model belongs to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The same basic idea is used to run the modern giant and Faraday's first little dynamo.
Michael Faraday was born near London, in the fall of 1791. His father was a blacksmith and there was no money for such things as education. However, Michael was a thoughtful young person, very curious and fond of reading. As a boy, he worked for a bookbinder, which gave him a chance to read lots of books and take notes. All his life, he was a great note taker, even when he became one of the great scientists of his day and invented the electric generator.
During what should have been his school years, Michael was what you might call a self educated young person. But all this changed when he reached the age of 22. By chance he was given a pass to a series of lectures. The lecturer was Sir Humphrey Davy, world famous scientist and head of the world famous London Institute. Faraday, the young scientist, took notes and added diagrams. Faraday, the young bookbinder, bound his pages into a book. Then he sent his volume to Davy with a bold request for a job at the Institute. His request was granted.
He studied and taught at the London Institute for the remaining 54 busy years of his life. There he had a chance to study exciting goings on, such as Davy's discoveries of chemicals ,and Volta's newly invented chemical battery. He was interested in anything and everything related to science. But one of his favorite subjects was electricity. Perhaps this was because the mysterious force seemed to promise a great deal yet nobody had been able to make much use of it .
Volta's chemical battery could generate a small current around a little wire loop. Faraday wanted to generate a lot of electricity and send its energy to where it was needed. It was known that electricity and magnetism are related, that an electric current in a wire creates a magnetic field around itself.
Faraday suspected that this relationship could be used to build an entirely different type of generator. He wrestled with the idea for many months and finally found the answer. He used the magnetic field around a U shaped magnet to send electric current through a copper wire circuit. The trick was to make a copper disk cut through the magnetic force lines again and again.
In 1831, Faraday completed his first model, with poxes. The magnetic field was provided by an ordinary U shaped magnet. A copper disk was set between the open end. When he turned a crank, electric current went through a circuit of attached copper wires. He knew that larger scale models, turned by steam or falling water, could generate large amounts of electricity. He also knew that this electric power could be transported for miles and miles.