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A History of Circuit Breakers and Working on them Today

A History of Circuit Breakers and Working on them Today

Despite modern popular culture espousing Nikola Tesla as an unsung hero and casting Thomas Edison as his unrelenting nemesis stealing his ideas and holding him back, it’s fair to say that both men were instrumental in forming the modern world as we know. While Edison certainly did take credit for a number of inventions he didn’t create from scratch and received patents for many breakthroughs made by others, he was no slouch either and did in fact invent or perfect many things we take for granted today.

One thing that Edison developed and completed was the first circuit breaker, which he came up with in 1879. Edison had come to a realization that short circuits would be a huge problem with the increased demand for electricity and lighting. He came up with two different ideas, both of which are in use to this day:  fuses and circuit breakers. Edison didn’t really pursue circuit breakers, but others picked up where he left off and instituted improvements and the first AIEE standards were introduced in 1922.

circuit breaker panelEven with this growth, it took a fair amount of time to see circuit breakers used widely and it wasn’t until the 40’s that breakers were used commonly in people’s houses or in workplaces and it’s been steady improvement since then with today’s breakers being able to handle many times more power than the originals. Today, there are many different types of circuit breakers both large and small, and there are many that are inexpensive, provided they’re the right ones for the job.

NTE Electronics makes a few different kinds of circuit breakers, including the R58 series which has a push button reset and a visual trip indicator. The R58 series is ideal to use with single phase motors, transformers, power strips and solenoids and the R59’s are typically used for transformers, motor battery chargers, power supplies, appliances, extra low voltage systems and machinery. Before using either breaker, it would probably be a good idea to look at the datasheets to make sure that you’re using it within proper voltage applications. Both styles are affordable and compact making them an easy choice to use in a repair.

In addition to actual breakers, there are also accessories that are designed to help diagnose and troubleshoot breakers, in addition to locking them out for safety purposes. Klein Tools has several different circuit breaker finder tools, the ET300, the ET310, and the 69411 Circuit Breaker Finder Accessory kit. Ideal Tools also makes something similar. Ideal Tools also has lockout/tag out safety locks for circuit breakers which will help you ensure power stays off when you’re working on something.

Cutaway of a circuit breakerToday’s circuit breakers are more reliable and capable of so much more than their predecessors. They’ve also gotten smaller and generally more affordable. Even so, electricians work on them, replace them or lock them out to work on another part of the circuit. Manufacturers like NTE, Klein and Ideal have helped drive the improvements to circuit breakers and today they make some of the best products in the market.

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