In the early 19th century, Hans Christian Ørsted discovered that the proximity of a current carrying wire deflected a compass needle – it no longer pointed north! – and scientists began to seriously investigate the relationship between electricity and magnetism. Michael Faraday determined that moving a magnet towards a coil of wire or a coil of wire towards a magnet produced a current in the wire, establishing the basic principle of the electric generator.
Above is an image of a hand-crank generator. A person may rotate the coil of wire located between the two poles of a standing magnet on the right to produce electricity, e.g. lighting the bulb located in the lower left hand corner. Falling water or steam (created by burning coal or nuclear energy) may be used to turn larger turbines, producing much more electricity.
Photograph of a hand-crank generator, courtesy of the Physics Department, University of Puget Sound.
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