The electric motor is one of the most important inventions of moderns times. Without motors, there would be no air conditioners, washing machines, power tools, computers, or any of the other conveniences we take for granted every day.
But it took a lot of time to get to where we are.
Motor innovation was a long, slow progress that began in the early 1800s. It’s still happening today with the production of electric cars. The bulk of the innovations, however, happened in the 19th century.
What follows is a timeline that shares some of the important people and their discoveries that allowed electric motors to evolve into what they’ve become today.
Timeline of Electric Motor Innovation
- 1800. On New Year’s Day, Italian physicist Alessandro Volta produces a continuous electrical current by stacking silver and zinc plates. This is the first electrical cell (battery) ever produced.
- 1820. Hans Christian Orsted, a Danish scientist, notes that a compass needle is deflected from true north when placed near an electric current. This shows the relationship between electricity and magnetism, also known as electromagnetism.
- 1820. French physicist Andre-Marie Ampere invents the solenoid. This is a type of electromagnet that is used today in starters. As a charge is sent through the solenoid by turning the key, a pair of contacts close and allows the current to continue to the starter and turn the engine on.
- 1821. Building on Orsted’s work, British scientist Michael Faraday demonstrates that a magnetized wire will rotate in an electrical field. In doing so, Faraday proves the electromagnetic rotation is possible.
- 1822. Peter Barlow advances motor innovation by creating Barlow’s Wheel. This is the first demonstration of moving a wheel using electromagnetism and could be considered the first motor.
- 1825. William Sturgeon, another British scientist, invents the first working electromagnet. This paves the way for the advancement of electric motors.
- 1832. French instrument maker Hippolyte Pixii invents the first AC generating motor using electromagnetic rotation. The following year, he builds a DC generating machine as well. AC and DC are the two types of current that flow through a circuit.
- 1837. American inventor and blacksmith Thomas Davenport obtains the first US patent on an electric motor.
- 1838. Moritz Von Jacobi, a Russian engineer, demonstrates the first practical use of an electric motor. He uses one to propel a boat with paddle wheels.
- 1845. Frenchman Paul-Gustav Froment shows that a motor’s linear energy can be transferred to a “rotary” motion that can move a wheel. This paves the way for wheeled vehicles.
- 1860s. James Clerk-Maxwell simplifies the laws of electromagnetism to four key equations. This makes motor innovation easier than ever.
- 1880s. Serbian-American scientist Nikola Tesla experiments with the way AC is used. He invents several different electric motors.
The Rest is History
After these major milestones, the evolution of the electric motor grew rapidly in the 20th century. Electric motors are the cornerstone of many of our modern conveniences. As you can see, the innovations of the past were from an eclectic group of scientists, engineers, and nationalities.
Today, there are many companies that specialize in electric motors. For more information and personalized solutions, visit our website.