Colorado Model Engineering Society

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An Electrical Lesson

Today's scientific question is: What in the world is electricity and where does it go after it leaves the motor in your lathe or mill?

Here is a simple electrical experiment that will teach you an important electrical lesson: On a cold, dry day, scuff your feet along a carpet, then reach your hand into a friend's mouth and touch one of his dental fillings. Did you notice how your friend twiched violently and cried out in pain? This teaches us that electricity can be a very powerful force; but we must never use it to hurt others unless we need to teach someone an electrical lesson. It also teaches us how an electric circuit works. When you scuffed your feet, you picked up batches of "electrons", which are very small objects that carpet manufacturers weave into carpet so that it will shock people, and also attract dirt. The electrons travel through your bloodstream and collect in your finger, where they form a spark that leaps to your friends filling, then travel down to his feet and back into the carpet, thus completing the circuit.

Although we modern people tend to take our electric lights, microwaves, computers, etc. for granted, hundreds of years ago people did not have any of these things, which is just as well because there was no place they could plug them in anyway. We owe a great deal of thanks to the early electrical pioneers such as Benjamin Franklin, who flew a kite in a lightning storm and recieved a serious shock. This proved that lightning was powered by the same force as carpets, but it also damaged Franklin's brain so severely that he started speaking in incomprehensable maxims such as, "A penny saved is a penny earned." Eventually, he had to be given the job of running the post office.

After Franklin, came a herd of electrical pioneers whose names have become part of our electrical terminology: Carl Volt, Frank Amp, James Watt, Bob Transformer and many others. But next to Nikola Tesla, the greatest pioneer of all was Thomas A. Edison, who was a brilliant inventor in spite of the fact that he had little formal education and lived in New Jersey. His many inventions included multiple telegraphy, phonograph, motion pictures and in 1879, the incandescent light. But Edison's crowning achievement was the invention of the first electric company. Edison's design was a brilliant implementation of the simple electric circuit: the electric company sends electricity through a wire to a customer, then gets the electricity back again through another wire, then (this is the really brilliant part) sends it right back to the customer again. This means that the electric company can sell the same batch of electricity over and over again and never get caught, since very few customers take the time to examine their electricity closely. In fact, the last year any new electricity was generated was 1937; the electric companies have been merely reselling the same stuff ever since. Which is why they have so much time to apply for rate increases!

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