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The History of Electric Motors – Part 1


The electric motor has been around for a long time. A lot longer than many people might be aware of, with many discoveries leading to other breakthroughs.

Motors at a motor repair shop in Knoxville, TN.

Early Beginnings of Electric Motors

It started with electrostatic devices that used a sulfur ball and a glass cylinder to create friction. A Scottish Benedictine Monk named Andrew Gordon and Benjamin Franklin used this method to create a “frictional machine” in the 1740’s. And not a lot of progress was made for almost a century until Hans Christian Ørsted, a Danish physicist and chemist, discovered the relationship between electricity and magnetism in 1820.

This led to an explosion of innovations and discoveries that helped create the modern electric motor:

  • 1820 – André-Marie Ampère created a tight helical coil that served as the first solenoid.
  • 1821 – Michael Faraday suspended a magnetic wire in an electric field to display continuous electromagnetic rotation.
  • 1822 – A British physicist, Peter Barlow, created Barlow’s Wheel, the first device powered by magnetism.
  • 1825 ­ William Sturgeon, a British scientist, invented the electromagnet, which led to him building the first commutated rotating electric machine—AKA the first DC motor–in 1832
  • 1828 – Ányos Jedlik, a Hungarian physicist, invented the commutator, which he uses to build the first commutated electromechanical machine using electromagnets.

The First DC Motors

The invention of the first DC electrical motor by William Sturgeon in 1832, let to a second explosion of discoveries and inventions.

  • 1834 – Moritz von Jacobi, a German-Russian engineer, and physicist, constructed a 15-watt motor and demonstrated the first useful rotary electric motor for powering a boat the following year.
  • 1837 – Thomas Davenport, a blacksmith, and his wife Emily Davenport, an inventor, received the first electric motor patent in the United States.
  • 1838 – Rober Davidson, a Scottish inventor, developed the first electric motor for a lathe; and succeeded again in 1842 by inventing an electric motor for a locomotive.
  • 1840 – Truman Cool, an American, constructed the first electric motor with a PM armature.
  • 1845 – Paul-Gustav Froment, a French engineer, invented the Mouse Mill Motor, a motor that has similarities with the modern stepper motor.
  • 1856 – Werner Siemens, a German industrialist, invented a generator with a double-T armature and slots windings.

Most of the innovations going on between the mid-1830s to the mid-1850s consisted of improvements on existing designs, increasing the power, effectiveness, and usefulness of electrical motors.

This ends Part 1 of the History of Electrical Motors. Return next month to read part 2.

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