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About Electricity

What is Electricity?

Electricity is the flow of electrical power or charge. It is a secondary energy source which means that we get it from the conversion of other sources of energy, like coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear power and other natural sources, which are called primary sources. The energy sources we use to make electricity can be renewable or non-renewable, but electricity itself is neither renewable or non-renewable.

Electricity is a basic part of nature and it is one of our most widely used forms of energy. Many cities and towns were built alongside waterfalls (a primary source of mechanical energy) that turned water wheels to perform work. Before electricity generation began slightly over 100 years ago, houses were lit with kerosene lamps, food was cooled in iceboxes, and rooms were warmed by wood-burning or coal-burning stoves. Beginning with Benjamin Franklin‘s experiment with a kite one stormy night in Philadelphia, the principles of electricity gradually became understood. Thomas Edison helped change everyone’s life — he perfected his invention — the electric light bulb. Prior to 1879, direct current (DC) electricity had been used in arc lights for outdoor lighting. In the late-1800s, Nikola Tesla pioneered the generation, transmission, and use of alternating current (AC) electricity, which can be transmitted over much greater distances than direct current. Tesla’s inventions used electricity to bring indoor lighting to our homes and to power industrial machines.

Although the majority of people living in larger towns and cities had electricity by 1930, only 10 percent of Americans who lived on farms and in rural areas had electric power. At this time, electric companies were all privately owned and run to make money. These companies argued that it would be too expensive to string miles of electric lines to farms. They also thought farmers were too poor to pay for electric service.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed strongly that America’s farming areas should have the same access to electricity as cities did. In 1935 the Rural Electric Administration was created to bring electricity to rural areas like the Tennessee Valley.

By 1939 the percentage of rural homes with electricity had risen to 25 percent. The Tennessee Valley Authority also set up the Electric Home and Farm Authority to help farmers buy electric appliances like stoves and washing machines.Farm families of that time found that these helpful electric appliances made their lives much easier.

Despite its great importance in our daily lives, most of us rarely stop to think what life would be like without electricity. Yet like air and water, we tend to take electricity for granted. Everyday, we use electricity to do many jobs for us — from lighting and heating/cooling our homes, to powering our televisions and computers.  Electricity is a controllable and convenient form of energy used in the applications of heat, light and power.


Workers stringing electric lines Workmen string lines to bring TVA electricity to Valley farmers. (Photo courtesy of the New Deal Network)

 Information on this page provided by the Energy Information Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

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