Bluffton Packet

We take the flip of the electric switch for granted — until it doesn’t work

A oil lamp can light our way - and bring back childhood memories - when the electricity goes off
A oil lamp can light our way - and bring back childhood memories - when the electricity goes off Special to The Bluffton Packet

During Hurricane Matthew, there was one material thing many of us missed: electricity.

We take it for granted until it’s not there when you flip the switch, so we have to resort to the use of candles, flashlights and oil lamps, if we’re lucky enough to have one saved from another century. Using my oil lamp recently brought back memories of the many nights as a child it provided light to complete homework for next day’s school lesson.

When we think electricity, we automatically think of Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin.

Thomas Alvin Edison, born in 1847, was the electrical wizard who believed that “genius is about 2 percent inspiration and 98 percent perspiration.” He invented the incandescent light bulb in 1879. Some of his other contributions to the world include the phonograph, motion picture camera and projector, telephone transmitter, dictating machine, and storage battery.

Born in 1706, Benjamin Franklin, often called “America’s patron saint of common sense,” was the first to prove that lightning and electricity are the same when, in 1752, he flew a specially rigged kite in a thunderstorm. This flight was 127 years before Edison invented the light bulb. Other than being a scientist and inventor, he was successful in many fields as an author, editor and printer, philosopher, diplomat and humorist. Franklin was the 15th child in a family of 17. His father was a candle maker.

Franklin used his wisdom, common sense (as in “Poor Richard’s Almanac”) and tolerance to help to shape the United States into the free democratic nation we know today, signing the Declaration of Independence.

I was amazed to learn that static electricity was actually discovered by Thales of Miletus, a Greek philosopher who lived 600 years before Christ, when he rubbed a rod of amber briskly with a cloth. This caused small pieces of feather and the pith of plants to be attracted to the amber and cling to it.

Current electricity was discovered after the discovery of static electricity by Luigi Galvani during the late 1700s by using a conductor, so electricity flowing along the conductor is called an “electric current,” once called “galvanism” in honor of Galvani.

Now, the long thin strands of copper wire that are buried under some city streets are the “nervous system of modern civilization.” The power of 50 thousand straining horses will flow through wires no larger around than your finger. We live in an age of electric power and, without it, as night draws nigh, there is no light except for flickering candles and oil lamps.

Electricity is the tool that man uses to make himself the master of his environment, using it in factories, homes, stores, offices, on the farm, in communication and in medical science.

After a few days without power and with the hard work of electric companies working around the clock to restore it, in the blink of an eye, it’s “lights, camera, action.”

The power is back on. Electricity, our needed friend, we missed you.

Contributor Jean Tanner is a lifetime rural resident of the Bluffton area and can be reached at