U.S. Department Of Energy – Solar History Timeline: 1767-1891


U.S. Department Of Energy – Energy Efficiency And Renewable Energy

Solar Energy Technologies Program
Solar History Timeline: 1767-1891

This timeline lists many milestones in the historical development of solar technology from 1767 to 1891.

1767


Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure is credited with building the world’s first solar collector, later used by Sir John Herschel to cook food during his South African expedition in the 1830s. See the Solar Cooking Archive for more information on Sassure and His Hot Boxes of the 1700s.

1816


On September 27, 1816, Robert Stirling applies for a patent for his economiser at the Chancery in Edinburgh, Scotland. A minister in the Church of Scotland until the age of 86, Stirling builds heat engines in his home workshop in his spare time! Lord Kelvin uses one of the working models in some of his university classes.

This engine is later used in the dish/Stirling system, a solar thermal electric technology that concentrates the sun’s thermal energy to produce electric power.

1839


French scientist Edmond Becquerel discovers the photovoltaic effect while experimenting with an electrolytic cell made up of two metal electrodes placed in an electricity-conducting solution; the electricity generation increases when exposed to light.

1860s


French mathematician August Mouchet proposes an idea for solar-powered steam engines. In the next two decades, he and his assistant, Abel Pifre, will construct the first solar-powered engines for a variety of uses. The engines are the predecessors of modern parabolic dish collectors.

1873


Willoughby Smith discovers the photoconductivity of selenium.

1876


William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day discover that selenium produces electricity when exposed to light. Although selenium solar cells fail to convert enough sunlight to power electrical equipment, they prove that a solid material can change light into electricity without heat or moving parts.

1880


Samuel P. Langley invents the bolometer, used to measure light from the faintest stars and the sun’s heat rays. It consists of a fine wire connected to an electric circuit. When radiation falls on the wire, it becomes slightly warmer, and this increases the electrical resistance of the wire.

1883


American inventor Charles Fritts describes the first solar cells made of selenium wafers.

1887


Heinrich Hertz discovers that ultraviolet light alters the lowest voltage capable of causing a spark to jump between two metal electrodes.

1891


Baltimore inventor Clarence Kemp patents the first commercial solar water heater.

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