Circuit Breaker History from Civic Recycling: Part 1 (of 3)

Circuit Breaker History from Civic Recycling: Part 1 (of 3)

Civic Recycling is a business based around products, delving into the history of circuit breakers is not something we do very often. But we thought it would be fun and informative to take a look at the history of circuit breakers, where they came from, who invented them, and where they’re going.

Parts of the story are incredibly interesting and there are some names that everyone will recognize from history who had a part in the creation of the modern circuit breaker.

History of Circuit Breakers

Being merely the introduction, today we’ll touch on a few of the notes that predated the modern circuit breaker and leave off with where things were headed at the onset of the 20th century. With that said, let’s jump into the earliest incarnations of the circuit breaker and why its invention was necessitated.

According to the book Edison’s Electric Light: Biography of an Invention, Thomas Edison, the vaunted inventor of the late 19th and early 20th century, had developed an early form of the circuit breaker according to a patent application from 1879. The purpose of his invention at the time was to protect lighting circuit wiring from accidental short circuits and overloads. Now, Edison’s version never quite took off to the extent he had hoped, as his invention was largely in sketches and the idea patented, without a true working product ever coming to fruition. But with these ideas out there, someone eventually picked up on the circuit breaker and brought it into a more commercial light.

With Edison having moved on to different ideas over the next couple of decades, the circuit breaker went through a few different hands before it arrived and was first commercially installed.

The first ever installed Circuit Breaker (1898)

This is where we’ll pick up the story next. In 1898, the Boston Electric Light Company used the first installed circuit breaker at the local L Train Station. The breaker featured an oil tank and upward-breaking contacts that were manually activated. The oil was used to dampen the heat generated from the arc forming between the two open contacts (credit to Who Invented the Circuit Breaker, from the blog Sciencing).

Having been finally put to commercial use by the Boston Electric Light Company, the circuit breaker had arrived but clearly had a ways to go before it came even close to the iterations we see today in our own shop and in use. In the subsequent two articles discussing circuit breaker history, we’ll delve deeper into the commercial uses, advancement in technology, and where we see the circuit breaker going in the future. There are a lot of interesting stories and tidbits of information as to how the circuit breaker got to where it is today, and we’re looking forward to telling those stories.


At Civic Recycling, Canada’s number one circuit breaker specialist, we provide open lines of communication at all times. If you have any questions that need to be answered we can always be reached via email at, or by phone. Should the purchasing of a new or reconditioned product require our expertise, we’re always happy to answer any questions and to assist in the process.

Thanks for reading and we hope to be in touch soon.