Why Do Different Countries Use Different Plugs?

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Why aren't there universal sockets in every country? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Balaji Viswanathan, CEO of Invento Robotics, on Quora:

While the Americans developed the power delivery systems and the modern electric plug, other countries didn’t find the American standards [60 Hz, 110V and their plug system] as efficient.

Thus, each country started improving on their own what they thought was an inefficient way to deliver electricity. Germans liked the 50Hz [nicely fit with metric system] and 220 V [more efficient power transmission] much better. Englishmen improved upon on the American plug with a much safer [and bulky] plug.

Unfortunately for the Indians and Pakistanis, their innovation in plugs came after they left India in 1947, leaving the subcontinent in the older English standards and the English in newer plug standards. England and Europe don’t talk very much [let’s not get into Brexit now] and thus Europe didn’t adopt the English standard either.

Before that, the World Wars came in and pushed back all talks of standardization. Oh, you want to use the plug system of the Germans? No way.

Then there was the unique ways in which electricity was delivered and charged. Italy for a long time had different systems for delivering electricity for bulbs vs non-illumination use. They just developed their own plug system to work with that requirement. Thus, each system of plugs had their own advantages suitable for their system and countries didn’t accept one system to be better than another.

Once you have picked one system of electric plugs, it is not easy to switch [no pun intended] to another. You need to rip apart all the wall sockets in every home, office and factory, and also change stuff in your electrical appliance production. You need to do it all at once to prevent accidents and that would be very painful and expensive. That shock [no pun intended] and pain is not usually worth it. Most countries found that the travelers who wanted to carry their electrical equipment are not really that many [why would you take you microwave oven or TV during your travel?] while there are easier work-arounds for charging electronic equipment through USB standards. Thus, there is not really a push to accept the global standards [the Type N plug].

In summary, every country evolved their own system in parallel to replace what they thought was an inefficient American system and by the time they talked to each other there were 2 World Wars [pushing out all talks of standardization]. By the end of the World War 2, electricity was ubiquitous and it was a very painful to switch to a common standard and there was very little demand for such a switch.

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