Last century, Americans lived and died by the power of small electric motors. Those motors started generators that powered homes, factories, autos, and many other applications. These generators’ development helped organize society and created specific places of work with the introduction of big cities. The article focuses on two particular cities – Chicago in the 1890s and Detroit in the 1900-1920s.
The Origin of the Edison Electric Incandescent Lamp
In 1879, when Thomas Edison was perfecting his incandescent light bulb, the US city with the most electric lights was Cincinnati, Ohio. By 1886, that number had jumped to over 300,000. Today, more than 30 million lightbulbs are in the United States alone. How did this happen? It all started with a man named Thomas Edison. In 1879, Edison worked on making an electric light that could be used in homes and businesses. He came up with the idea of using a carbonized filament in a glass bulb. This filament would glow when electricity was passed through it. The first electric lamps were costly and only used by rich people. But as Edison continued to work on his invention, the price of the bulbs began to drop. By 1886, they were affordable for many people and used in cities throughout the United States. Today, electric lighting is taken for granted. But it all started with one man’s invention over 140 years ago.
Geography and Electricity
The United States has an electrical grid that is unrivaled in the world, and it is one of the many reasons why some cities thrive while others do not. The electrical grid provides reliable and affordable electricity to American businesses and households and supports various economic activities. While other countries have begun to invest in their electrical grids, the United States still maintains a clear lead. The American electric grid is about twice as large as the following closest country, and it provides about 20 percent of the world’s electricity. The Benefits Of The Electric Grid The electric grid is a critical part of the American economy and brings numerous benefits to businesses and households. Perhaps most importantly, the electric grid provides reliable electricity that can be used for various purposes. Companies rely on electricity to power their factories and offices, while households use it for heating, cooling, lighting, and appliances. In addition to reliability, the electric grid also offers affordability. Electricity prices in the United States are relatively low compared to other countries, making it easier for businesses to operate profitably and for households to afford necessities like air conditioning and refrigeration. Finally, the electric grid supports a wide range of economic activity. Many industries require electricity, including manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, retailing, information technology, and communication. Without reliable and affordable electricity, these industries would be much smaller or nonexistent.
Cities’ Early Power Supply and Benefits
In the early 1800s, American cities were powered by waterwheels and steam engines. These power sources had several benefits for cities. They were relatively clean, quiet, and efficient. They also allowed for the development of factories and other businesses that needed a reliable power source. Waterwheels and steam engines also had some drawbacks, however. They were expensive to build and maintain and required a constant water or coal supply.
Moreover, they could not provide the same power as today’s electric plants. The advent of electricity changed all of this. Electric power is cheaper to generate than either water power or steam power. It is also more versatile; it can be used for lighting, heating, cooling, and various other applications. Moreover, electric power can be transmitted over long distances, making it possible to supply cities with power from central generating stations. The widespread use of electricity in cities had some critical consequences. It spurred economic growth by making factories and businesses more productive. It improved public health by providing clean drinking water and better sanitation. And it made life more convenient and comfortable by providing such amenities as electric lights and refrigeration.
Dangers of Early Electricity
While early electricity was a game-changer for many cities, it also came with some dangers. One of the biggest dangers was fires. Early electrical wires were not well insulated and could quickly start fires if they came into contact with flammable materials. This was a particular problem in cities where wooden buildings were ordinary. Another danger of early electricity was electrocution. This was often an issue when people tried to work on electrical lines or equipment without proper training or safety precautions. Electrocutions could also happen if electrical wiring were not installed correctly. Finally, early electricity also created several health hazards. Some of the earliest electric lights produced a lot of ultraviolet radiation, which can damage skin and eyesight. Electric power plants also have harmful fumes that could cause respiratory problems.
Cities Survived Without Electricity
In the early 1800s, before electricity was widely available, cities were dimly lit by oil lamps and candles. Streets were filled with horse-drawn carriages, and factories ran on steam power. Today, it’s hard to imagine a city surviving without electricity. A complex grid of power plants and transmission lines now powers cities. Electricity powers our lights, computers, homes, and lives. How did we get from there to here? How did cities survive without electricity? The answer lies in how electricity has changed how we live and work. Before electricity, cities were powered by coal-fired power plants. These plants produced light and heat but were also dirty and dangerous. Coal-fired power plants spewed soot and pollutants into the air, which caused health problems for residents of nearby neighborhoods. They also produced large amounts of ash that had to be disposed of somehow. In addition to being dirty and dangerous, coal-fired power plants were also expensive. The cost of coal rose steadily throughout the 19th century, as did transport to cities. This made it difficult for city dwellers to afford reliable access to electricity. The advent of electric power changed all of this. Electric power is generated by clean, safe nuclear reactors or renewable sources like solar and wind farms. It can be transported long distances without loss through high-voltage wires.
Arguments to Support Blaming Electricity for City Changes
The advent of electricity was a turning point in the development of cities. It allowed factories to be built and powered, increasing production and jobs. It also made it possible to have streetlights, which made city streets safer and more inviting. Arguments to support blaming electricity for city changes typically focus on how it made factories possible. This created jobs and brought people into cities, resulting in pollution and other adverse side effects. Some believe this is why cities like Detroit have struggled in recent years.
Electricity has changed the game when it comes to city development and economics. Some cities have thrived because of their proximity to power sources, while others have struggled to keep up. It’s interesting to see how such simple electricity can significantly impact the world around us.
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