When Was Hydroelectricity Invented?

Learn all about the history of the renewable resource of hydroelectricity including its inventor, where it's been utilized, and a brief history.

When Was Hydroelectricity Invented?

Most people are familiar with Benjamin Franklin and the birth of electricity. But if you think back to science class, there are many ways to harness electricity. And more than ever, there are eco-friendly options, like hydroelectricity. But how recent is this technology, and when was hydroelectricity invented?

Hydroelectricity was invented in the late 1800s in England. This technology combined long-used hydropower and the recently invented electric generator. This allowed for a new power source which fueled the Industrial Revolution even more.

If you want to be an expert on the topic, you're in luck. In this article, we'll cover the history, sustainability, and more information on hydroelectricity.

What Have Humans Used Hydropower For?

It turns out humans have been using hydropower to our advantage for centuries. Over 2,000 years ago, the Greeks were harnessing the power of water to grind grain into flour. The Egyptians utilized the power for irrigation on their crops.

Since then, we've utilized it to power our businesses, factories, and homes. And after its invention, the technology quickly took hold. But what came before the first hydroelectric power plant?

What Came Before Hydroelectric Power?

There wasn't an immediate jump from harnessing water in ancient times to the electricity-producing technology of today. Before William Anderson combined two technologies to create hydroelectric power, there was another man harnessing the power of water in a new way.

A precursor of the more modern hydro-turbine came from an engineer named James Francis. In 1849 he developed the Francis Turbine, which is now the most widely used turbine model in the world.

And nearly 100 years later, engineers are still working on modifying and improving the efficiency of this historical technology for various new uses.

When Was Hydroelectricity Invented?

Also known as hydroelectric power, this is electricity that's been generated by hydropower, or water power. Humans have used water power since ancient times to help perform tasks.

But in 1878, driven by the Industrial Revolution, hydropower would be paired with the newly invented electrical generator. At Cragside in Northumberland, England, William Armstrong utilized both technologies to create the world's first hydroelectric setup.

This electricity would be enough to power a small desk lamp in his personal art gallery. And from there, the invention quickly spread to the United States, where multiple hydroelectric power plants were installed within just a few years of the invention's first use.

Where Was The Technology First Used Globally?

The United States

The world's first hydropower plant was successfully started in Wisconsin, USA, in 1882. This plant began operation on September 30th of that year under the name Appleton Edison Light Company.

As the name suggests, this was the first plant of its kind that supplied power for both private and commercial customers. This plant, located on the Fox River in Appleton, powered people's homes and businesses all over the area.

There were other hydropower plants installed in North America as well to supply power to mills and light a few local buildings. These plants were built in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Ottawa, Ontario; Dolgeville, New York; and Niagara Falls, New York.

The Rest Of The Globe

After this technology took hold in North America, it quickly spread to other parts of the world. By the beginning of the 18th century, Germany had a three-phase hydroelectric system, and Australia launched the largest plant in the lower hemisphere.

And in 1895 came the largest hydroelectric technology at the time. The Edward Dean Adams Power plant was built in Niagara Falls, New York.

What's Changed For Hydroelectricity?

With the 20th century came a change in hydropower design to increase efficiency and sustainability. Growing energy needs became a problem after WWII caused population growth.

Hydropower started popping up more and more in North America, Western Europe, the Soviet Union, and Japan. This was a low-cost power option that utilized an abundant resource.

Most notably, this type of power took over the United States after the 1920s. It was around this time that the Army Corps of Engineers was authorized by congress to build hydroelectric power plants. This quickly resulted in 25% of the US's energy supply coming from 75 plants across the country.

In the 40s, this power was also utilized to build technologies like the Hoover Dam. This was brought upon by Roosevelt's New Energy Deal, and the construction of these industrial feats supplied jobs as well as pushed energy generation by hydroelectricity to 40%.

There was a decrease in the development of hydroelectric plants during the 1980s-90s due to a lack of funding and concerns over environmental impacts. This resulted in a shift in how these plants are designed, built, and operated in order to leave an as little footprint on the surrounding environment as possible.

Hydroelectricity Today

Hydroelectricity remains an affordable and reliable source of energy for people all across the world, including those in third-world countries. In the last couple of decades, Brazil and China they've accounted for over half the world's hydroelectric growth.

These countries and others across Asia, South America, and more have realized the benefits of utilizing hydroelectric power to help them reach goals spelled out in climate agreements. And this also boosts other forms of clean and sustainable development.

Across the globe, this continues to be the largest growing form of electricity used, and no sign of it slowing down any time soon. With a lower cost and lower impact than other sources of energy, this power source is likely to remain the largest in the world for the time being.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, a brief history of hydroelectricity, including when it was invented and where it was used.

What came from humble beginnings, grinding grain and even making paper, has transformed into an incredible energy source. And it's come a long way since the first hydroelectric-powered lamp in 1878.

Hydroelectricity continues to expand across the globe and has been harnessed for new uses such as pumped storage, marine, and hydrokinetic projects, and so much more.