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Thomas Alva Edison’s greatest challenge was the development of a practical incandescent, electric light and contrary to popular belief, he didn’t “invent” the lightbulb but rather he improved upon a 50-year-old idea. In 1879, using lower current electricity, a small carbonized filament and an improved vacuum inside the globe, he was able to produce a reliable, long-lasting source of light.

The idea of electric lighting was not new and a number of people had worked on and even developed forms of electric lighting. But up to that time, nothing had been developed that was remotely practical for home use. Edison’s eventual achievement was inventing not just an incandescent electric light but also an electric lighting system that contained all the elements necessary to make the incandescent light practical, safe and economical. After one and a half years of work, success was achieved when an incandescent lamp with a filament of carbonized sewing thread burned for thirteen and a half hours.

GaslightStreetlight_Med.gifGaslightStreetlightLookUp_Med.gifThere are a couple of other interesting things about the invention of the light bulb: While most of the attention was on the discovery of the right kind of filament that would work, Edison actually had to invent a total of seven system elements that were critical to the practical application of electric lights as an alternative to the gas lights that were prevalent in that day.

These were the development of:

  • The parallel circuit.
  • A durable light bulb.
  • An improved dynamo.
  • The underground conductor network.
  • The devices for maintaining constant voltage.
  • Safety fuses and insulating materials.
  • Light sockets with on-off switches.

PowerPoleArcing_Med.gif PowerPoleFlashing_Med.gifBefore Edison could make his millions, every one of these elements had to be invented and then, through careful trial and error, developed into practical, reproducible components. The first public demonstration of the Thomas Edison’s incandescent lighting system was in December 1879, when the Menlo Park laboratory complex was electrically lighted. Edison spent the next several years creating the electric industry.

The modern electric utility industry began in the 1880’s. It evolved from gas and electric carbon-arc commercial and street lighting systems. On September 4, 1882, the first commercial power station, located on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, went into operation providing light and electricity power to customers in a one square mile area; the electric age had begun.

PowerlinesArcing_Med.gifThomas Edison’s Pearl Street electricity generating station introduced four key elements of a modern electric utility system. It featured reliable central generation, efficient distribution, a successful end use i.e. the light bulb and a competitive price. A model of efficiency for its time, Pearl Street used one-third the fuel of its predecessors, burning about 10 pounds of coal per kilowatt hour, a “heat rate” equivalent of about 138,000 Btu per kilowatt hour. Initially the Pearl Street utility served 59 customers for about 24 cents per kilowatt hour. In the late 1880’s, power demand for electric motors brought the industry from mainly night-time lighting to 24-hour service and dramatically raised electricity demand for transportation and industry needs. By the end of the 1880’s, small central stations dotted many U.S. cities; each was limited to a few blocks area because of transmission inefficiencies of direct current (DC).

The success of his electric light brought Edison to new heights of fame and wealth, as electricity spread around the world. His various TelephonePolesBetweenHouses_Med.gifelectric companies continued to grow until in 1889 they were brought together to form Edison General Electric. Despite the use of Edison in the company title however, he never controlled this company. The tremendous amount of capital needed to develop the incandescent lighting industry had necessitated the involvement of investment bankers such as J.P. Morgan. When Edison General Electric merged with its leading competitor Thompson-Houston in 1892, Edison was dropped from the name and the company became simply General Electric.

 

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PEOPLE.
ALCOHOL. ALIENS. ASIANS. BABYS. BOYS.
CAVEMAN. CHEER-LEADER. COUPLES. DUTCH. ELDERLY.
ESKIMOS. FAKIRS. GIRLS. JANE. JO SUE.
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Etc.
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