Alternating Current - History


The first alternator to produce alternating current was a dynamo electric generator based on Michael Faraday's principles constructed by the French instrument maker Hippolyte Pixii in 1832. Pixii later added a commutator to his device to produce the (then) more commonly used direct current. The earliest recorded practical application of alternating current is by Guillaume Duchenne, inventor and developer of electrotherapy. In 1855, he announced that AC was superior to direct current for electrotherapeutic triggering of muscle contractions.

A power transformer developed by Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs was demonstrated in London in 1881, and attracted the interest of Westinghouse. They also exhibited the invention in Turin in 1884, where it was adopted for an electric lighting system. Many of their designs were adapted to the particular laws governing electrical distribution in the UK.

In 1882, 1884, and 1885 Gaulard and Gibbs applied for patents on their transformer; however, these were overturned due to prior arts of Nikola Tesla and actions initiated by Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti.

Ferranti went into this business in 1882 when he set up a shop in London designing various electrical devices. Ferranti believed in the success of alternating current power distribution early on, and was one of the few experts in this system in the UK. In 1887 the London Electric Supply Corporation (LESCo) hired Ferranti for the design of their power station at Deptford. He designed the building, the generating plant and the distribution system. On its completion in 1891 it was the first truly modern power station, supplying high-voltage AC power that was then "stepped down" for consumer use on each street. This basic system remains in use today around the world. Many homes all over the world still have electric meters with the Ferranti AC patent stamped on them.

William Stanley, Jr. designed one of the first practical devices to transfer AC power efficiently between isolated circuits. Using pairs of coils wound on a common iron core, his design, called an induction coil, was an early transformer. The AC power system used today developed rapidly after 1886, and includes key concepts by Nikola Tesla, who subsequently sold his patent to George Westinghouse. Lucien Gaulard, John Dixon Gibbs, Carl Wilhelm Siemens and others contributed subsequently to this field. AC systems overcame the limitations of the direct current system used by Thomas Edison to distribute electricity efficiently over long distances even though Edison attempted to discredit alternating current as too dangerous during the War of Currents.

The first commercial power plant in the United States using three-phase alternating current was at the Mill Creek No. 1 Hydroelectric Plant near Redlands, California, in 1893 designed by Almirian Decker. Decker's design incorporated 10,000-volt three-phase transmission and established the standards for the complete system of generation, transmission and motors used today.

The Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant (spring of 1891) and the original Niagara Falls Adams Power Plant (August 25, 1895) were among the first AC-powered hydroelectric plants.

The Jaruga Hydroelectric Power Plant in Croatia was set in operation on 28 August 1895. The two generator (42 Hz, 550 kW each) and the transformers were produced and installed by the Hungarian company Ganz. The transmission line from the power plant to the City of Šibenik was 11.5 kilometers (7.1 mi) long on wooden towers, and the municipal distribution grid 3000 V/110 V included six transforming stations.

Alternating current circuit theory developed rapidly in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century. Notable contributors to the theoretical basis of alternating current calculations include Charles Steinmetz, James Clerk Maxwell, Oliver Heaviside, and many others. Calculations in unbalanced three-phase systems were simplified by the symmetrical components methods discussed by Charles Legeyt Fortescue in 1918.

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