History of Insulators

The first electrical systems to make use of insulators were telegraph lines; direct attachment of wires to wooden poles was found to give very poor results, especially during damp weather.

The first glass insulators used in large quantities had an unthreaded pinhole. These pieces of glass were positioned on a tapered wooden pin, vertically extending upwards from the pole's crossarm (commonly only two insulators to a pole and maybe one on top of the pole itself). Natural contraction and expansion of the wires tied to these "threadless insulators" resulted in insulators unseating from their pins, requiring manual reseating.

Amongst the first to produce ceramic insulators were companies in the United Kingdom, with Stiff and Doulton using stoneware from the mid-1840s, Joseph Bourne (later renamedDenby) producing them from around 1860 and Bullers from 1868. Utility patent number 48,906 was granted to Louis A. Cauvet on 25 July 1865 for a process to produce insulators with a threaded pinhole: pin-type insulators still have threaded pinholes.

The invention of suspension-type insulators made high-voltage power transmission possible. As transmission line voltages reached and passed 60,000 volts, the insulators required become very large and heavy, with insulators made for a safety margin of 88,000 volts being about the practical limit for manufacturing and installation. Suspension insulators, on the other hand, can be connected into strings as long as required for the line's voltage.

A large variety of telephone, telegraph and power insulators have been made; some people collect them, both for their historic interest and for the aesthetic quality of many insulator designs and finishes. One collectors organisation is the US National Insulator Association, which has over 9,000 members.