Who invented the first Electric Motor?

When Hans Christian Orsted experimented with electricity in 1820, he observed that a compass deflected when he held a rod electrified nearby.   Though he had just discovered electromagnetism, he had no idea of its impact but he had started the ball rolling for the development of electric motor technology.  The search for power-generating applications of electromagnetism did not take long among scientists around the world.  An English physicist named William Sturgeon is credited with creating the first DC electric motor in 1832 although his design was the first electric motor capable of moving machinery it was still heavily limited by its low power output.

Thomas Davenport and his wife Emily Davenport were granted the first DC electric motor patent in 1837 in the United States.  The design was based on Sturgeon’s first motor. In spite of years of experimentation, Davenport’s motor design faced the same power and efficiency issues as Sturgeon’s original design.  The most impressive early motor design, however, was created by a Russian named Moritz Von Jacobi, whose electric motor in 1834 set a world record for mechanical power output.  In 1835, Jacobi demonstrated his new design’s increased power by ferrying 14 people across a river using a boat powered by his motor.

The First DC Motor

Electric motor technology exploded after the early demonstrations of its capability, inspiring hundreds of new inventions and discoveries. Even so, the first generation of electric motors were little more than paperweights they were highly impractical, having voltage loss across windings, an unstable supply current, and common sparking. In the following 50 years, engineers and physicists worked on optimizing and redesigning the fundamental components of the electric motor in order to solve these problems.

A number of improvements were made to the rotor and armature design between 1835-1886 in an effort to develop the first ‘practicable’ motor, with notable contributions coming from Italian physicist, Antonio Pacinotti, and Belgian electrical engineer, Zénobe Gramme. Only Frank Julian Sprague, an American inventor, is credited with inventing the first ‘practical’ motor in 1886.  The Sprague electric motor eliminated sparking and voltage loss across windings, making it the first ‘practical’ DC electric motor, enabling a wider range of electric motor applications.  Sprague’s motor designs were practical and relatively powerful, but their efficiencies left much to be desired.

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