How Electricity may be lost to Use
Modern Electrical Inventions
In the electric bell, we saw that an air gap at the push button stopped the flow of electricity. If we cut the wire connecting the poles of a battery, the current ceases because an air gap intervenes and electricity does not readily pass through air. Many substances besides air stop the flow of electricity. If a strip of glass, rubber, mica, or paraffin is introduced anywhere in a circuit, the current ceases. If a metal is inserted in the gap, the current again flows. Substances which, like an air gap, interfere with the flow of electricity are called non-conductors, or, more commonly, insulators. Substances which, like the earth, the human body, and all other moist objects, conduct electricity are conductors. If the telephone and electric light wires in our houses were not insulated by a covering of thread, or cloth, or other non conducting material, the electricity would escape into surrounding objects instead of flowing through the wire and producing sound and light.
In our city streets, the overhead wires are supported on glass knobs or are closely wrapped, in order to prevent the escape of electricity through the poles to the ground. In order to have a steady, dependable current, the wire carrying the current must be insulated.
Lack of insulation means not only the loss of current for practical uses, but also serious consequences in the event of the crossing of current-bearing wires. If two wires properly insulated touch each other, the currents flow along their respective wires unaltered; if, however, two uninsulated wires touch, some of the electricity flows from one to the other. Heat is developed as a result of this transference, and the heat thus developed is sometimes so great that fire occurs. For this reason, wires are heavily insulated and extra protection is provided at points where numerous wires touch or cross.
Conductors and insulators are necessary to the efficient and economic flow of a current, the insulator preventing the escape of electricity and lessening the danger of fire, and the conductor carrying the current.