Today in Technology History

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July 6

Thomas Davenport (1802-1851)A forgotten pioneer of electricity died exactly 150 years ago.

Thomas Davenport was born in Vermont in 1802. At the tender age of 14, he was apprenticed to a blacksmith for seven years. He opened up his own blacksmith shop in 1823. A decade later he heard the unusual story of a giant electromagnet used to separate iron ore; intrigued by electricity and magnetism, he taught himself everything he could on the subject.

Davenport began hands-on experiments with electromagnets, and in time he unraveled their secrets. By 1834, he had built what some historians consider the first true electric motor -- a battery-powered device with a rotating wheel. A short time later, he built the world's first vehicle powered by electricity: a small car that rode on a circular electrified track like a model train.

Decades before most people, Davenport grasped the implications of his work; he knew well that electricity would change the world. For a while, Davenport attracted the attention of investors and scientists, but there were still technical problems to be worked out before electrical power could be widely adopted. He died bankrupt and discouraged on July 6, 1851 (just three days before his 49th birthday).

Davenport the blacksmith was a bridge between the age of muscle power and the new era of electrical machinery. Not only were his inventions significant, but he was among the first to recognize that electricity would change everything. He deserves to be remembered as one of the great leaders of modern technology.

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