In the late 19th century, the growth of America’s economy was powered by the increasing use of electricity to power businesses.

AC/DC

Thomas Edison invented the first low-voltage direct current (DC) electric distribution system for businesses and residential homes. By 1882, he was able to light the streets of New York using filament bulbs.

In 1883, Brooklyn-born William Stanley quit a law course at Yale to develop the first practical transformer. Inspired by Michael Faraday’s experiments and Charles F. Brush’s work in lighting and batteries, he used an alternating current (AC) system. His solution used a transformer to step up voltage for long-distance transmission and then step it back down again safely. Using a parallel-connected transformer, his system reduced power loss and was therefore cheaper than Edison’s.

Stanley’s efforts were closely monitored by the New York inventor and industrialist George Westinghouse, who became first his employer, then his patron. In March 1886, using his parallel-connected transformers, Stanley was able to power lamps for 23 businesses along the length of Main Street in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Current affairs

The fierce arguments surrounding the opposing solutions of DC and AC became known as the ‘War of Currents’, with Edison’s supporters on one side and Westinghouse’s on the other. AC emerged as the winner, and Stanley’s transformer became the basis of modern electrical power distribution.

In 1890, he formed the Stanley Electric Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to make transformers. The company was bought out in 1903 by General Electric, which raised production hugely, boosting America’s industrial output.

Energy through the Ages: How Hydroelectricity Electrified the World and The Industrialisation of Oil

The views, opinions and positions expressed within the British Gas Business Blog are those of the author alone and do not represent those of British Gas. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this blog are not guaranteed. British Gas accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright in the content within the British Gas Business Blog belongs to the authors of such content and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. For more information about the mix of fuels used to generate our electricity simply visit britishgas.co.uk/business/fuel-mix. You can find information about how to make a complaint at www.britishgas.co.uk/business/complaints.