Ever wonder why the plugs for our electrical devices are shaped the way they are? In North America, nearly every piece of electrical work relies on the standard two-prong model to draw power, with many power cords including a third grounding prong as well. As any international traveler can tell you, however, you can run into all kinds of exotic plug designs when visiting nations on different continents. Why has the world developed so many different designs to power electrical work? Read on for a brief history of plug design.
Hard-Wired vs. Portable Electrical Work
Residential electrical power has only been around since the 1880s, and in the beginning, electric lights were hard-wired into the walls of a home. It wasn’t until after the dawn of the 20th century that electrical plugs, which allowed electrical devices to be easily swapped in and out, were invented by a man named Harvey Hubbell. This innovation allowed people to use early electrical appliances like irons and portable lights in their homes.
The electrical plugs we use today in North America are based on the original Hubbell design, with the notable addition of the third grounding prong, which was patented in 1928 and provides some extra security to reduce the chance of electrocution. Note that these plug types are used for standard 110 volt electrical work -- heavy duty appliances like stoves and dryers, which usually require 220 volts, have their own special plug designs.
Separate Standards Around the World
While North America was moving forward with its electrical revolution, however, the rest of the world was busy designing their own methods of drawing electricity. Although they all follow the basic standard of using metal prongs to conduct power from the outlet to the cord, the size, shape and number of prongs can vary widely, much to the dismay of travelers.
For example, most of Europe uses a two-prong plug, but the prongs are round and farther apart than the American version. Some countries in the far East like China and Australia have more familiar rectangular prongs, but they are slanted in a way that is incompatible with American outlets. Great Britain has its own rather bulky plugs, and some countries in the Middle East use yet another kind of design. What’s more, many countries outside North America use a 220 or 240 volt standard instead of 110-120, meaning you have to carry both adapters and transformers if you want to use your electrical devices on the road without frying them.
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