July 5, 2022

Electrification is the expansion of electricity generation and distribution. In the western world this took place during the third phase of the industrial revolution and mainly took place between 1880 and 1930. In the developing countries this development is still ongoing. It is considered by the NAE as the greatest engineering achievement of the twentieth century. It was made possible by the cheap energy that became available during the industrial revolution. Electrification started with the invention of the first practical generator and electric motor. It was initially privately-owned utilities that expanded the electricity grid after the first power station was built in 1882 at the initiative of Thomas Edison. He was able to cash in on his recently invented light bulb. However, due to the high cost of the distribution network, many companies initially used their own generators. Ultimately, however, the economies of scale made it more attractive to switch to the net. Meanwhile, the war of the currents raged here, the battle between Edison's DC and George Westinghouse's AC. For industry, electrification enabled a huge leap in production. The electrification of transport then also started to get underway, both in the city with trams and metros and outside with trains. The electrification of the household started between the two world wars when household appliances could be made small enough. Governments recognized the strategic importance of the electrical network and in many countries nationalized it. Today there is a reverse trend and many companies are privatized. Electrification has also made information technology possible, which has not only reduced communication costs to sometimes virtually nothing. The speed at which information, but also capital could be sent, also rose to unprecedented levels. According to cultural historian Alistair Laing, electrification has reduced social differences because lighting has now become a matter of course for almost everyone.

See also

Railway power supply Electrification of railway lines in Belgium Electrification of railway lines in the Netherlands


Hausman, W. J.; Hertner, P.; Wilkins, M. (2008): Global Electrification. Multinational Enterprise and International Finance in the History of Light and Power, 1878-2007, Cambridge University Press, Hughes, T. P. (1993): Networks of Power. Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930, JHU Press.