Useless information about… Electrical outlets

Anyone who’s ever travelled abroad knows that the prongs – and sometimes voltage – of electrical receptacles outside North America don’t match the ones we use here at home. That’s why you have pack an adaptor kit to can plug in your electric razor, hair dryer, or laptop while on holiday.
But why is it that way? Well, back when household electrical appliances started appearing on the market back in the early 1900s, no one anticipated the wide array of electronics we now regularly tote across time zones. Who would bother bringing their Tiffany table lamp for a cross-Atlantic voyage when the good folks at Cunard would have taken care of all the shipboard lighting needs already?
So manufacturers of receptacles – and the appliances that plugged into them – focused on coming up with regionally compatible designs. Here in Canada, we ended up with the two-prong “Type A” outlet that dangled off the end of appliances manufactured in North America, back when that sort of stuff was manufactured in North America. The Type A was later upgraded to the grounded three-prong Type B socket. There’s a full alphabet soup of options used elsewhere in the world, all the way up to Type O, a three-pin, 16-amp style used exclusively in Thailand. (If you’re really interested – and you’ve read this far – there’s a complete list, including photos, available at the website: WorldStandards.eu/electricity/plugs-and-sockets.)
With the dozen or so different systems used in Europe having a negative impact on trade and travel, in 1986 the European Union attempted to create standardized system, based on a 230-volt outlet. It’s known as the Type N or “universal plug.” Oddly enough, it was a South American country – Brazil – that decided to adopt the universal outlet.
Unfortunately, outside of Brazil, the Type N hasn’t really caught on. And, unfortunately for Brazilians, while the socket of choice the country’s hardware stores is standardized, the actual voltage travelling through the wires varies depending on which part of the country you happen to be in.

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