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Electric Motor
- Jun 27, 2017 -

Faraday's electromagnetic experiment, 1821[1]

Perhaps the first electric motors were simple electrostatic devices created by the Scottish monk Andrew Gordon in the 1740s.[2] The theoretical principle behind production of mechanical force by the interactions of an electric current and a magnetic field, Ampère's force law, was discovered later by André-Marie Ampère in 1820. The conversion of electrical energy into mechanical energy byelectromagnetic means was demonstrated by the English scientist Michael Faraday in 1821. A free-hanging wire was dipped into a pool of mercury, on which a permanent magnet (PM) was placed. When a current was passed through the wire, the wire rotated around the magnet, showing that the current gave rise to a close circular magnetic field around the wire.[3] This motor is often demonstrated in physics experiments, brine substituting for toxic mercury. Though Barlow's wheel was an early refinement to this Faraday demonstration, these and similar homopolar motors were to remain unsuited to practical application until late in the century.

Jedlik's "electromagnetic self-rotor", 1827 (Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest). The historic motor still works perfectly today.[4]

In 1827, Hungarian physicist Ányos Jedlik started experimenting with electromagnetic coils. After Jedlik solved the technical problems of the continuous rotation with the invention of the commutator, he called his early devices "electromagnetic self-rotors". Although they were used only for instructional purposes, in 1828 Jedlik demonstrated the first device to contain the three main components of practical DC motors: the stator, rotor and commutator. The device employed no permanent magnets, as the magnetic fields of both the stationary and revolving components were produced solely by the currents flowing through their windings.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11]

Success with DC motors[edit]

After many other more or less successful attempts with relatively weak rotating and reciprocating apparatus the Prussian Moritz von Jacobi created the first real rotating electric motor in May 1834 that actually developed a remarkable mechanical output power. His motor set a world record, which was improved only four years later in September 1838 by Jacobi himself.[12] His second motor was powerful enough to drive a boat with 14 people across a wide river. It was not until 1839/40 that other developers worldwide managed to build motors of similar and later also of higher performance.

The first commutator DC electric motor capable of turning machinery was invented by the British scientist William Sturgeon in 1832.[13] Following Sturgeon's work, a commutator-type direct-current electric motor made with the intention of commercial use was built by the American inventor Thomas Davenport, which he patented in 1837. The motors ran at up to 600 revolutions per minute, and powered machine tools and a printing press.[14] Due to the high cost of primary battery power, the motors were commercially unsuccessful and Davenport went bankrupt. Several inventors followed Sturgeon in the development of DC motors but all encountered the same battery power cost issues. No electricity distribution had been developed at the time. Like Sturgeon's motor, there was no practical commercial market for these motors.[15]

In 1855, Jedlik built a device using similar principles to those used in his electromagnetic self-rotors that was capable of useful work.[5][11] He built a model electric vehicle that same year.[16]

A major turning point in the development of DC machines took place in 1864, when Antonio Pacinotti described for the first time the ring armature with its symmetrically grouped coils closed upon themselves and connected to the bars of a commutator, the brushes of which delivered practically non-fluctuating current.[17][18] The first commercially successful DC motors followed the invention byZénobe Gramme who, in 1871, reinvented Pacinotti's design. In 1873, Gramme showed that his dynamo could be used as a motor, which he demonstrated to great effect at exhibitions in Vienna and Philadelphia by connecting two such DC motors at a distance of up to 2 km away from each other, one as a generator.[19] (See also 1873 : l'expérience décisive [Decisive Workaround] .)

In 1886, Frank Julian Sprague invented the first practical DC motor, a non-sparking motor that maintained relatively constant speed under variable loads. Other Sprague electric inventions about this time greatly improved grid electric distribution (prior work done while employed by Thomas Edison), allowed power from electric motors to be returned to the electric grid, provided for electric distribution to trolleys via overhead wires and the trolley pole, and provided controls systems for electric operations. This allowed Sprague to use electric motors to invent the first electric trolley system in 1887–88 in Richmond VA, the electric elevator and control system in 1892, and the electric subway with independently powered centrally controlled cars, which were first installed in 1892 in Chicago by the South Side Elevated Railway where it became popularly known as the "L". Sprague's motor and related inventions led to an explosion of interest and use in electric motors for industry, while almost simultaneously another great inventor was developing its primary competitor, which would become much more widespread. The development of electric motors of acceptable efficiency was delayed for several decades by failure to recognize the extreme importance of a relatively small air gap between rotor and stator. Efficient designs have a comparatively small air gap.[20] [a] TheSt. Louis motor, long used in classrooms to illustrate motor principles, is extremely inefficient for the same reason, as well as appearing nothing like a modern motor.[21]

Application of electric motors revolutionized industry. Industrial processes were no longer limited by power transmission using line shafts, belts, compressed air or hydraulic pressure. Instead every machine could be equipped with its own electric motor, providing easy control at the point of use, and improving power transmission efficiency. Electric motors applied in agriculture eliminated human and animal muscle power from such tasks as handling grain or pumping water. Household uses of electric motors reduced heavy labor in the home and made higher standards of convenience, comfort and safety possible. Today, electric motors stand for more than half of the electric energy consumption in the US.[22]


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