Why didn't older civilizations discover or make use of electricity?

Dec 2015
247
NYC
#1
Early civilizations such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greco-Roman world, the Islamic world and even in India and China all had some idea of what electricity was, of course not anything like the understanding of electricity we have now, which is still extremely recent in history. So why didn't these advanced civilizations go deeper to the point of having some near understanding/theory of electricity and make full use of it. After all, these civilization did have metal and had little understanding of magnetism. Could it be possible for these civilizations to make full use and have developed a theory on electromagnetism?
 
Apr 2017
1,555
U.S.A.
#2
Electricity was little more than a curiosity until after 1600, when increasing amounts of research began to be done with it. Aside from the lack of basic understanding, there was the problem of technology. Crude metal is insufficient for using electricity in an efficient way. You need pure, standardized conductors and a means of producing electricity to even start considering its wide spread use. Such technology did not exist in the ancient world. So to do this you need more advanced understanding of electricity and the various technologies to build upon it.
 
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stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,454
Las Vegas, NV USA
#3
I think one could just as well ask why the industrial revolution, along with its scientific and technological advances occurred. These occurred first in the middle latitudes and close to the oceans. People make changes in the way they live when they are challenged. Winter challenged people living at higher latitudes after the agricultural revolutions. The great ancient civilizations didn't have much of a winter. People living at higher latitudes had to cope with difficult conditions which led to inventiveness. Living near the sea provided some food and encouraged water craft for exploration. The Egyptians were content with navigating the Nile but had no need to make big changes or travel long distances. The Greeks invented a simple steam engine but regarded it as a toy. The English first used steam power to move coal from mines and distribute it so people could stay warm in the winter since the forests were being depleted.

The "need" for electricity only came later. It had to be better understood than just burning coal for heat or boiling water for locomotion. Today electricity is essential but it wasn't 100 years ago and technology was already much more advanced than in ancient times.
 
Last edited:
Dec 2015
247
NYC
#4
Electricity was little more than a curiosity until after 1600, when increasing amounts of research began to be done with it. Aside from the lack of basic understanding, there was the problem of technology. Crude metal is insufficient for using electricity in an efficient way. You need pure, standardized conductors and a means of producing electricity to even start considering its wide spread use. Such technology did not exist in the ancient world. So to do this you need more advanced understanding of electricity and the various technologies to build upon it.
Even in the 1600s, it was still a mere intellectual curiosity. There was an English individual named William Gilbert during the 1600s who did write a theory on Electricity and Magnetism, but our modern day understanding of electricity is only 200-300 years old, appearing sometime during the 1800s with the works of Ampere, Volta, Galvani, Coulomb, Faraday and Maxwell. Electrical engineering only became a thing in the late 1850s after the established theory on electromagnetism by said individuals.
 
Dec 2015
247
NYC
#5
I think one could just as well ask why the industrial revolution, along with its scientific and technological advances occurred. These occurred first in the middle latitudes and close to the oceans. People make changes in the way they live when then they are challenged. Winter challenged people living at higher latitudes after the agricultural revolutions. The great ancient civilizations didn't have much of a winter. People living at higher latitudes had to cope with difficult conditions which led to inventiveness. Living near the sea provided some food and encouraged water craft for exploration. The Egyptians were content with navigating the Nile but had no need to make big changes or travel long distances. The Greeks invented a simple steam engine but regarded it as a toy. The English first used steam power to move coal from mines and distribute it so people could stay warm in the winter since the forests were being depleted.
The industrial revolution only came about due to the colonization of the Americas and later on the world. I've always heard that it started in England due to having the right resources, however, other places around Europe had the same resources as Britain, why didn't it start in France, Spain or Germany. It's obviously because England had developed the economy it needed from places they colonized to help push the industrial revolution in Britain. But not only colonialism, also things like the scientific revolution and constant competition with other Western European powers at that time help start off the industrial revolution.
 
Apr 2017
1,555
U.S.A.
#6
Even in the 1600s, it was still a mere intellectual curiosity. There was an English individual named William Gilbert during the 1600s who did write a theory on Electricity and Magnetism, but our modern day understanding of electricity is only 200-300 years old, appearing sometime during the 1800s with the works of Ampere, Volta, Galvani, Coulomb, Faraday and Maxwell. Electrical engineering only became a thing in the late 1850s after the established theory on electromagnetism by said individuals.
I didn't say the technological knowledge for using electricity started in 1600, only that it started to be researched more at that time. Obviously modern technological uses for electricity started in the later 19th century. I implied this with my mentioning of the requirements for its widespread use.
That said, you have also answered your own question in less polite terms than I used.
 
Dec 2015
247
NYC
#7
I didn't say the technological knowledge for using electricity started in 1600, only that it started to be researched more at that time. Obviously modern technological uses for electricity started in the later 19th century. I implied this with my mentioning of the requirements for its widespread use.
That said, you have also answered your own question in less polite terms than I used.
I agreed with you that more technological innovations such as better quality metal was needed in order to fully understand electricity. What I am trying to ask is, since early civilizations already had an idea of electricity, couldn't they have gone further deeper and establish a more deeper understanding of electricity to the point of developing technology, much earlier. I did not answer my own question. I was just stating that our modern day understanding of electricity if a mere 200-300 years old. And how was I being less polite? I was just stating what I know. I was definitely not being rude or mean in any way.
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,454
Las Vegas, NV USA
#8
The industrial revolution only came about due to the colonization of the Americas and later on the world. I've always heard that it started in England due to having the right resources, however, other places around Europe had the same resources as Britain, why didn't it start in France, Spain or Germany. It's obviously because England had developed the economy it needed from places they colonized to help push the industrial revolution in Britain. But not only colonialism, also things like the scientific revolution and constant competition with other Western European powers at that time help start off the industrial revolution.
Spain and Portugal were the first colonial powers followed by England and France. France did start using steam power in the 18th century. I don't. think it had. the coal resources that England had. Moreover it had a warmer climate with a longer growing season, especially in the south.
 
Dec 2011
2,354
#9
The industrial revolution only came about due to the colonization of the Americas and later on the world. I've always heard that it started in England due to having the right resources, however, other places around Europe had the same resources as Britain, why didn't it start in France, Spain or Germany. It's obviously because England had developed the economy it needed from places they colonized to help push the industrial revolution in Britain. But not only colonialism, also things like the scientific revolution and constant competition with other Western European powers at that time help start off the industrial revolution.
I would say that the wealth that came to Britain as a result of slavery was a large factor in financing the industrial revolution - but remember that the Romans also had countless slaves for hundreds of years, their territory included Britain, yet they didn't have an Industrial Revolution.

To my mind the foundation of the industrial revolution was laid by the development of modern science. People learned to observe and conduct experiments and kept adding to the body of real knowledge about how the natural world works. Secondly there was a well-developed commercial system (mercantilism?) whereby people could invest capital, reasonably confident of reaping profit, hence there was a driving force to find ways of making more money. But why did the industrial revolution happen in Britain and not, say, Italy? Possibly there was more money available, from slavery, in the UK than in other parts of Europe. In developing has steam engine, James Watt bankrupted at least 2 of his backers, who themselves had capital invested in slave plantations (others may know more details about this).
 
Dec 2015
247
NYC
#10
Spain and Portugal were the first colonial powers followed by England and France. France did start using steam power in the 18th century. I don't. think it had. the coal resources that England had. Moreover it had a warmer climate with a longer growing season, especially in the south.
But England defeated the Spanish and French in navel battles and became the dominant colonizing power in the Americas. And the Spanish and French lost their colonies before the English did. I'm sure other parts of Europe had more or less the same amount of coal the British Isles had. The industrial revolution started in Britain as it had a more developed and large economy compared to the other colonial powers and other parts of Europe at that time.