Founding Fathers of Energy

PSEG founder Thomas McCarter (Center) hosts New Jersey Governor A. Harry Moore (Left) and Thomas Edison (Right) at the 1926 dedication of the Kearny Generating Station.

Fourth of July is a time to celebrate America and all that has been sacrificed in the name of freedom and independence for this country. And while we recognize men like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as the Founding Fathers of this country, let us not forget a separate but equally important group of influential men – the Founding Fathers of Energy, to which we owe a world of ever-progressing power and technology. Along with the contributions of Andres Celsius, Georg Ohm, Isaac Newton, James Joule and James Watts, the following men are just a few of the key players who built the foundation for the energy we use and understand today.

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin’s list of accomplishments and successes vary from his role as a diplomat and politician, to a printer and scientist. Similarly, his contributions to the energy world are vast and diverse. Franklin was the first to notice the similarities between lightning and electricity, a concept that other scientists had dabbled in but never fully explored. Through observing their parallels, Franklin suggested lightning and electricity were one in the same through his famous key and kite experiment. By tying an iron key to a kite during a storm, he was able to attract lightning and send a charge down the kite’s string. This experiment was the inception of the lightning rod, which absorbs the electrical charge from lightning and sends it to the ground, leaving the respective building undamaged.

Thomas Edison
Thomas Alva Edison was another instrumental figure in the progress of energy through the 19th and 20th century. Edison learned the fundamentals of energy through his work as a telegraph operator, which lead to his invention of the stock ticker, the world’s first electricity-based broadcast system.

However, Edison’s most well-known invention was the light bulb, developed at his lab in Edison New Jersey. Although not the first form of electric light, (that can be credited to Humphry Davy in 1802) the light bulb was the first mass-produced, commercial form of light. Later, Edison went on to develop a system of electric-power generation and distribution and founded the Edison Illuminating Company, one of the first companies to eventually become part of Con Ed. His first power station was on Pearl Street in Manhattan, providing electricity to 59 customers in lower Manhattan.

Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla was not only an innovator in the world of energy, but his work also elevated the contributions of other great scientists like Edison and Franklin. Tesla’s inventions ranged from the inception of radio, the remote control, x-rays, neon signs and more; but perhaps his most influential work was the invention of AC power and the AC motor, which is used to run household appliances like washers and dryers. His goal was to power a motor solely through alternating currents. To do this, Tesla patented a rotating magnetic field that would allow alternating current to power an engine without being converted into a direct current first. This process was later used to create AC generators and transformers.

Albert Einstein
Like his contemporaries, Albert Einstein made significant steps forward in the world of energy throughout his lifetime, most famously for his mathematical equation about the nature of energy: e = mc2. Einstein argued that any mass has an equal energy, and any energy has an equal mass. Because ‘c,’ which stands for the speed of light in a vacuum, results in such a large number, the German-born scientist further suggested that mass is a highly concentrated form of energy. Much of his work was developed in Priceton, New Jersey.

Einstein also played a large part in discovering the photoelectric effect, a phenomenon that occurs when a metallic surface is exposed to an electromagnetic radiation above a certain frequency (like x-rays and visible light). When the radiation meets the metallic surface, the light is absorbed and electrons are emitted.
These are just four of the powerful figures who helped create and support many of the electric devices we use today. Have a favorite scientist responsible for your go-to gadget?

Share your energy inspiration in the comment section and see the links below for more information:

Mike Voltz – Director of Energy Efficiency and Renewables, PSEG Long Island

Michael Voltz, Director of Energy Efficiency

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  • Hi. Just read your article about the contributions of past inventors regarding energy. The article mentioned James “Watts” but isn’t the correct last name “Watt”? Was this a typo? Just wondering.

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