Hans Camenzind has written a great little book about the history of man's understanding and use of the electron, titled "Much Ado About 'Almost' Nothing". The book is about this tiny little atomic particle, with a weight of almost nothing, and a speed near the speed of light, which has become the workhorse of our culture, in tools large and small. The book traces the earliest observation of the actions of electrons, from pre-history to modern applications in electricity and electronics.
The existence of electrons was theorized by the ancient Greeks, such as Democritus in 400 BC. They were actually used for productive work by about 200 BC, with batteries used for electroplating jewelry in Iraq. Electron's take their name from the Greek word for amber, the dried and hardened sap of trees. People found that when amber was rubbed with fur, it would attract certain small objects, such as threads, feathers, and straw. This observation was the first notice taken of the action of electrons. The Greek scientist Thales observed the properties of amber and of lodestone, and formulated a theory for their actions. Thales was the perhaps the first known scientist, and worked on many different areas of science in about 600 BC.
"Much Ado About 'Almost' Nothing" has many stories about man's very slow understanding of electrons, and focuses on the stories of the individual inventors making each tiny step of progress. At $14.95, its a great read for anyone, including scientists and non-scientists, and believe it or not, will be a book you will have a hard time putting down. available from the publisher, Booklocker.com.