Introduction to Electricity

After reading this section you will be able to do the following:

  • Define electricity and identify the origins of the term.
  • Discuss how electricity can be observed in the world.

Electricity is the flow of electrical charge or power.  Humans have been aware of this phenomena for many centuries. Ancient people believed that electricity was some form of magic because they did not understand it. Greek philosophers noticed that when a piece of amber was rubbed with cloth, it would attract pieces of straw. They recorded the first references to electrical effects, such as static electricity and lightning, over 2,500 years ago.

It was not until 1600 that a man named Dr. William Gilbert coined the term “electrica,” a Latin word which describes the static charge that develops when certain materials are rubbed against amber. This is a potential source of the word “electricity.” Electricity and magnetism are natural forces that are very closely related to one another. You can learn about magnetism in the Magnetism Module and about the interaction between electricity and magnetism in the Waves Module.

In order to really understand electricity, we need to first look closely at the very small components that make up atoms.


  1. Electricity occurs naturally and has been observed for thousands of years.
  2. Electricity and magnetism are very closely related.