Return to Introduction of "What Electricity Is" by James Roe Published 1953 - 1954

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By James Roe

Chapter I

My Incentive

   It was during the anxious years of World Was II, when a very serious power shortage developed, that it occurred to me just how dependent our nation has become upon the great source of energy--Electricity.
   Not many years ago any company of any size had their engine room, boiler room and a large storage space for fuel. The investment was considerable for the equipment, and replacement cost every few years ran very high.
   Skilled help had to be kept constantly in attendance to assure the proper functioning of the engines which provided power for the production machinery in the plants. The space and buildings required for such power p;ants kept many small companies from producing their own products.
   Electricity has changed all of this.
   After Electricity was discovered the methods were devised for producing it with the dynamo, and motors were invented where by this new form of energy could be converted into to power, the machines formerly run by belts from line shafts turned by power derived from steam engines slowly began to disappear. The old power plants were dismantled and junked, Each of the production machines in the plant got their own individual motor. The machine operator can now turn the power on and off for his own machine. There are no more shut downs of complete plants for cleanout and repairs to the power plants. A motor goes bad on a machine, it only stops the one machine, not the entire plant. This saved a great deal of money and speeded up production greatly.
  This all pleased the stockholders and owners of the industrial plants and the use of electric power increased by leaps and bounds.
  Small power plants for producing electricity sprang up all over the country. Every small village, every town and of course the cities had their own plants, for transmission lines were not in existence yet.
  Before many years the big cities were enlarging their power plants, their distribution of electricity extending further and further as new inventions in the field made it possible.
  Through experimentation and experience it was found to be more economical to produce electricity in huge power plants with monstreous generators, and then to distribute it over high tension lines throughout the length and breadth of the land.
  As these transmission line passed through a town or village, power was offered to them at a figure far below the cost at which the small local plant could possibly produce it, so the local plant was closed down and eventually dismantled and today at the last report it is shown that there is less than two thousand power plants in operation in our country today. (1955) Of these it is estimated that less than twenty percent produce at least seventy-five percent production of the power within our borders.

  This number of plants may seem to be quite large until we start to break it down. If they were distributed equally amongst the forty eight states it would mean that each state has only about forty plants and this is far from too many, especially under emergency conditions, such as war.

  It is certain that our enemies have all the generating plants in our country plotted on their war maps, and they will certainly do their utmost to bomb and destroy all of these plants possible. this would create a very vital shortage of electric power, and unless this shortage could be relieved we would not be able to produce the materials of war. This would make it possible for the enemy to take our land and deprive us of our freedoms.
(50's fear-based thinking that has never been checked and derailed effectively. 3dzp)......

  These are some of the thoughts that raced through my mind as the shortage of electricity occurred in our land, even when all of the generators of the country were working twenty-four hours a day.

  But what could I do?I could not build additional generating plants. Others did not seem to think it was necessary I guess.

  As I attempted to evaluation the situation it came to me that the only way to prevent an enemy from knocking out our defensive and offensive efforts through destruction of our generating plants was to provide many, many small plants, designed to be absolutely automatic, that could produce electricity as economically as the large plants, or more so.

  I talked with a number of men in the electric field and was told that it could not be done.

  When I am told something can't be done that is when I really get interested.

  My curiousity was aroused.

  Could I divise a new way of producing electricity? Was it worth researching and experimenting on? If it could be done it might someday save our country from invasion, and that is certainly worth while.

  For years I have accumulated clippings and made notes on various subjects, including electricity. From this accumulation of information I formulated an outline for my research on the subject.

  As I mulled this outline over in my mind it suddenly occured to me that I had set myself to a difficult task. I was going to attempt to produce electricity by a new method, and i didn't know what electricity was.

  How could I produce something when I didn't know what it was. It had a name, Electricity, that was all I knew.

  I started out to get an answer to this question.
  First I asked my friends in the electrical field, both in the engineering and the practical departments. All of them started out swell, but by the time they would get right up to the point of answering"what dlectricity is" they would fold up and openly own that they did not know how to answer that question.

  If these men who are educated in the electrical field, and many of them have worked in it for years, cannot tell me what electricity is, how could i ever hope to solve the problem.

  As time went on every one i mer was asked, "What is Electricity"?

  I received many answers. Some said it was power you received from a generator, others said it is wat you see in a flash of lightning, or an arc, or the attractive force of a magnet, etc., but when all of these answers were anylyzed I found myself right back where I started.

  Finally I went to my old standby, "Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary." It says: "Electricity -- A name of the cause or agent underlying certain phenomena, called electric, and usually spoken of as a liquid; the force that manifests itself in lightning, in the attraction of dealing was and amber when rubbed for light substance and in many other phenomena.

  This definition is correct without a doubt, but it does not answer my question: "What is Electricity?"

  Next I went to a source of information which has served me well many times in the past, "The encyclopedia Britanica." It states: --- "The Question: What is electricity?" is therefore essentially unanswerable, if by it is sought an explanation of the nature of electricity in terms of material bodies."

  It is an answer to this unanswerable question: "What is electricity," that i seek, "--- the nature of electricity in terms of material bodies."

  This most reliable reference source has stated my quest admirably, and they have stated that the question is "unanswerable."......

  Anyone who knows this publication should be satisfied, after checking the references, that this question has not been answered previously, for the Encyclopedia Britannica is amongs the first in the reference field to publish advancements in scientific knowledge.

  This, and the definitions of electricity found in many other references and text books left me in just the same position, I had rhed several thousand words on the subject some of them very interesting, but after studying them over carefully I found that in none of the writings was there one scientific fact to truly show, or even indicate; "What Electricity Is." All of these writings referred to laws which are known to apply to it, or phenomena resulting from, or in connection with it.

  I was still back where I had started from. My knowledge may have increased but no one could answer my question;

"What Is Electricity"


Electricity = What?

  In my research on other subjects I have found that when starting to research on a subject, it not only increases my interest, but often points of value are brought to light if i go to the old publications and follow down through the historical development which has taken place since it was first discovered. As this has proven interesting and helpful to me let us just spend a few minutes going over some of the highlights in the development of the knowledge we have of electricity.

almost all copied

Chapter two pg. 13&14    Chapter two pg. 15&16

Chapter III