We know that the electron was discovered in 1897 by J.J. Thomson. So was the knowledge about charge, current, electricity and all those terms related to it which we study today discovered after it, or did we have that knowledge from early times?

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    $\begingroup$ What are you asking? $\endgroup$
    – Jimmy360
    Apr 19, 2015 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ There's a long history of electricity, long before the discovery of the electron. The battery was invented in 1800 and the use of electricity, while not practical for some time, was interesting to many. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_battery You should also look up Michael Faraday, who did a lot of work, invention and discovery with electricity. $\endgroup$
    – userLTK
    Apr 19, 2015 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I agree. As an aside, the word "elektron " is Greek for amber- which I believe was known in classical times to have strange attractive properties (static electricity). The Greeks may not have know exactly what it was but they did observe it. $\endgroup$
    – Floris
    Apr 19, 2015 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ Since people knew about electric charge since antiquity, this question is too broad. The answer would be the whole history of electricity which can be easily found on Wikipedia and other sources. $\endgroup$ Apr 20, 2015 at 12:14

1 Answer 1


One manifestation of static electricity, the lightning, is known since the prehistoric times, a theoretical idea of electric charge first explicitly appears in works of William Gilbert around 1600. We already have a thread When and where was Electricity used for the first time?, that discusses history of electricity in more detail, so I will only add what is not mentioned there.

The first record of a practical use of electricity appears to be in medicine by Roman physician Scribonius Largus around 46-47 AD, who prescribed electric shocks for treating foot-gout (arthritis), and severe headaches (migraine). The source of electric charge was the black torpedo fish, a kind of electric ray. Largus writes:"For any sort of podagria (foot-gout): when the pain comes on, it is good for one to put a living black torpedo-fish under his feet while standing on a beach (not dry but one on which the sea washes), until he feels that his whole foot and shank are numb just up to the knees. This will both relieve the current pain and alleviate future recurrences". Numbing the nerves provided short term pain relief for headaches also, and minus the torpedo fish the treatment is in use today.

It is likely that Largus was reporting an already known treatment, but it is hard to tell how far back it goes. In Plato's dialogue named after him Meno accuses Socrates of "stunning" people with his puzzling questions like a torpedo fish. Egyptian texts from around 2750 BC refer to electric catfish as "the thunderer of the Nile", that "protects" all other fish, and there is a depiction of an electric catfish on a Narmer's palette from about 3100 BC "if the pictogram has been correctly interpreted". So was "the thunderer of the Nile" used medicinally as early as that? Put that into a maybe category, despite claims on many internet sites there is no direct evidence. But it still appears that electric fish were the first practical sources of electricity. A connection between them and the lightning was made some time between 12th and 15th centuries AD by Arabs, who started referring to electric rays as "raad", their word for lightning.


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