Year of Invention: 1903
What Is It? A combination of electric generating power plants, electric trans-
mission lines, and transformers to serve the electrical needs of a large area.
Who Invented It? Samuel Insul (in Chicago)
Our modern world is structured around electric utilities’ ability to distribute electric power to every address, building, and place. Cities are organized around the utilities, which provide any amount of current and any voltage to any and every customer. Each new structure simply connects to the electrical power grid, and the electric utility makes sure that electricity magically arrives. Giant central power plants and their spider webs of lines to distribute the power helped make modern cities possible.
Electricity was not new in the late nineteenth century. Volta invented the electric battery in 1800. Faraday invented the electric motor and electric generator in 1831.
In 1879, Edison invented the electric lightbulb. However, users of one of these motors or lights had to supply their own noisy, bulky electric generator.
The idea of creating central electric utilities did not spring forward as a single, complete concept. Samuel Insul in Chicago was the one to finally put all the pieces together and invent a working utility.
The first thing an electric utility needed was electric generating power stations. In 1879, Charles Brush, in San Francisco, built the first electric generator with the intent of producing electricity that he would sell to nearby customers.
Initially, Brush’s plant supplied DC (direct current) electricity to new street lighting over an eight-block stretch of Market Street. In 1880, he added two small manufacturing plants along the street as customers. Technically, this was the country’s first electric utility.