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At the origin of every science, of whatever nature it may be, there is always a fruitless period, of greater or less length, characterized by the warfare of a few superior minds against general apathy. The finest discoveries pass unperceived, so to speak, since they cannot cross the limits of a narrow circle; and it often happens that they fall into oblivion before they have been seriously judged. Meanwhile, a slow progress is imperceptibly made, and, in measure as theoretical principles more clearly disengage themselves, a few industrial applications spring up and have the effect of awakening curiosity. An impulse is thus given, and from this moment a movement in advance goes on increasing at a headlong pace from day to day.
With electricity this period has been of comparatively short duration, since scarcely a century and a half separate us from the first experiments made in this line of research. Now that it has truly taken its place in a rank with the other sciences, we like to go back to the hesitations of the first hour, and trace, step by step, the history of the progress made, so as to assign to each one that portion of the merit that belongs to him in the common work. When we thus cast a retrospective glance we find ourselves in the presence of one strange fact, and that is the simultaneousness of discoveries. That an absolutely original idea, fertile in practical consequences, should rise at a given moment in a fine brain is well; we admire the discovery, and, in spite of us, a little surprise mingles with our admiration. But is it not a truly curious thing that several individuals should have had at nearly the same time that idea that was so astonishing in one? This, however, is a fact that the history of electrical inventions offers more than one example of. No one ignores the fact that the invention of the telephone gave rise to a notorious lawsuit, two inventors having had this ingenious apparatus patented on the same day and at nearly the same hour. This is one example among a thousand. In the history of dynamo-electric machines it is an equally delicate matter to fix upon the one to whom belongs the honor of having first clearly conceived the possibility of engendering continuous currents.
We do not wish to take up this debate nor to go over the history of the question again. Every one knows that the first continuous current electric generator whose form was practical is due to Zenobius Gramme, and dates back to July, 1871, an epoch at which appeared a memoir (entitled “Note upon a magneto-electric machine that produces continuous currents”) that was read to the Academy of Sciences by Mr. Jamin. Ten years previous, Pacinotti had had a glimpse of the phenomenon, and of its practical realization, but was unfortunately unable to appreciate the importance of his discovery and the benefit that might be reaped