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Throwback Thursday: manufacturing edition: Getting your motor running

Welcome to this week’s Throwback Thursday! Manufacturing innovation is a big part of the foundation of our modern world, and it is something that has continued to accelerate at a rapid pace. This pace has made it somewhat hard to comprehend a time before streetlights, billboards, and the luxuries we surround ourselves with daily. This edition will go back around 200 years, to take a look at the invention of the electric motor! Exciting, no? Let’s find out more…

We’re going to start in the year 1800, with an early experiment involving an electromagnetic device. It’s fair to say that this was the spark that sets off our journey! Italian scientist, Allessandro Volta produced the first continuous electrical power from a stack of Silver and Zinc plates. In 1820, André-Marie Ampère, a French scientist, discovered another piece of the puzzle. He found that magnetic force was apparently a circular one, from this he invented a cylindric coil, or solenoid. This created a cylinder of magnetism around the wire, a circular force which hadn’t been seen before!

Only a year later, in 1821, British scientist Michael Faraday studied the work of scientists previously in this field and devised his own experiment. He realised that if a magnetic pole could be isolated, then it should move constantly in a circular motion around the current-carrying wire. He devised an experiment involving a small mercury bath and the device was able to transform electrical energy into mechanical energy. Michael Faraday had created the first electric motor!

Over the next ten years, up to 1832, there was a surge in innovation. Scientists from all over the world, from Britain, Hungary, Austria, America, Italy, Ireland, and France, were driving the development of creative and more powerful electric motor designs. These included Istvan Jedlik’s rotary machine, Joseph Henry’s small magnetic rocker, and William Ritchie’s rotating electromagnetic generator with four rotor coils, a commutator, and brushes, which was recognised as the first commutator.

In May 1834, Moritz Jacobi of Prussia invented what is regarded as the ‘first real electric motor’. Jacobi’s invention could lift a weight of around 10-12 pounds, at a speed of one foot per second – an equivalent of 15 watts of mechanical power. In November of the same year, Jacobi sent a report to the Academy of Sciences in Paris to inform them of his breakthrough, later detailing a scientific memoir in 1835. Jacobi continuously expressed that he was not the sole inventor of the electric motor, stating that without the likes of Faraday, Botto, and Dal Negro who had laid the foundations for his work, this accomplishment would not have been possible.

Around 200 years later, there still seems to be slight disagreement as to who invented the first actual electric motor in the early 1800s. What has remained the same, however, is the way the technology has continued to evolve whilst staying integral to industry. DC motors were joined by AC motors, generators, and invertors, which all keep our world turning. What do you think will be next?