Imagine, if you will, you are a child in 1800. It is Christmas morning. You sit on the wood floor in your family’s simple home, a fire in the wood stove and the Christmas tree in a corner. The eve before, Dad had lit candles on the tree, each nestled in a shiny tin with a glowing reflection plate behind.
It was beautiful. “The candles are like dancing angels,” Mom said. (Luckily, the tree had not caught fire and burned the house down, an all too common occurrence.) Mom sighed and whispered, “Amen,” when Dad finally blew out the candles.
You and your siblings had been allowed to open one of the two or three presents for each of you beneath the tree. Sister screamed with delight over her new doll shipped all the way from Kansas City, with yellow hair and an almost life-like, painted face made of a molded, papier-mache composition – a huge advance from her older, wooden dolls.
Brother received a knitted brown cap and a cast iron bank with a little man wearing a high-top hat, who spun and bowed at every deposited penny. The gift would start the boy on a life of thrift, his father said, maybe even inspire him to be a banker. One could only hope.
And you? You sat before your unopened gift and wondered at the possibilities. Your gift could be anything. Anything, that is, except one that would make electronic sounds, light up, enable you to converse with friends miles and miles away, or perform calculations and many human-like functions. Those magical feats would have to wait.
But, unknown to you, as you basked in the glow of your loving family, the world was about to change.
That very same year, Allesandro Volta (the man after whom “volts” were named) invented the first battery. And nothing has ever been the same. In 1825, the electro magnet was patented, enabling the development of direct current (DC) motors. It would be a while before they first appeared under the Christmas tree, that’s true, but the first electric motor powered a small model car in 1835.
Three-phase synchronous motors were invented in 1887, and anything became possible. The first electric-powered toy train came on the market in 1897, produced by a U.S. company Carlisle and Finch. Easy Bake Ovens®, toy trains, race cars zooming around tracks, boom boxes, electric football games and air hockey gave way to Leap Frog® and Leap Pad® learning toys. Which marched in step to the development of lower-cost personal computers, and then I-Pads® and pods and tablets and cell phones and smart phones. All powered by electricity and rechargeable, simply by plugging them in.
Christmas has become a noisier, sister’s screams of doll-inspired joy aside, and a more well-lit holiday.
So, when you and your loved ones open presents this year, think for a moment at the power that links you to Google® (so you can finally recite all 12 days of Christmas); that propels your race car or allows a baby doll to cry and say, “Ma ma.” Think about the electric outlet from which that energy ultimately comes and then, maybe, consider just for a short while those people behind your outlet who work every day to ensure that power is always there when you need it.
We’ve come a long way. Happy holidays!