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Which came first - Electricity or Magnetism?

  1. Jun 5, 2006 #1
    This is kind of like the chicken or the egg problem. I want to know if there is an established scientific opinion regarding this question.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 5, 2006 #2


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    Do you mean: which phenomenon was first discovered ?
    Or which phenomenon "first arose" ?
    The latter question is a bit strange of course, given that it is now seen as two different manifestations of one and the same phenomenon.
    As to the former, I don't know. I know that magnetism was known in ancient times ; I have no idea if electrostatic effects (apart from lightning, but that was usually given some kind of divine interpretation) were known in antiquity.
  4. Jun 5, 2006 #3
    In pedagogy, electrostatics comes first since it is simpler than magnetostatics and far simpler than electrodynamics.
  5. Jun 5, 2006 #4
    The first known demonstration of electrostatics as a tool of man was by Thales of Miletus (~600 B.C.), who demonstrated that amber could attract lightweight objects after being rubbed with cat fur. It was long thought that this was simply a material property of amber, but in 1600, Gilbert demonstrated that many other materials showed the same behaviour, his work was the effective beginning of electrostatics (The word electron in Greek actually means amber). Magnetostatics may have first been used (in the form of a compass) by Chinese emperor Hoang-Ti in 2637 B.C. in pursuit of an enemy through foggy landscape. It is probably safe to say that magnetostatics preceeded electrostatics in this regard. The first experimental connection between the two was made by Oersted in 1820, who saw deflection of a compass needle when a current carrying wire was brought nearby. Electrodynamics was born shortly after when Ampere wrote down formalism to describe the force he observed between two current carrying wires in the vicinity of one another.

    Modern Problems in Classical Electrodynamics C.A. Brau
  6. Jun 7, 2006 #5


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    That is like asking which side of the coin gets stamped first - heads or tails? It's a single stamp and they occur simultaneously so it's not a "chicken or egg" thing. Electricity and magnetism are like two sides of the same coin.
  7. Jun 7, 2006 #6


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    Thank you for this interesting contribution !
  8. Jun 7, 2006 #7
    I just make it up as I go Vanesch! :tongue2:
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