Thomas Alva Edison - 1,093 patents.


self-taught railroad telegrapher;

quadruplex telegraph.

Menlo Park research lab 1876,

"wizard of Menlo Park"

commercially feasible system for generating & distributing electric light & power.


1808 Humphrey Davy - voltaic pile, battery. 

Charles Brush - arc lighting system.

1880s, Brush arc light systems in San Fran, NY, Philly & Boston,

electric incandescent filament. 

1870s Joseph Swan - globe vacuum.

Edison's lamps - 16 candlepower, "burners", meters, monthly bills for "light-hours".

public relations,

Francis Upton, physicist & mathematician - systematic testing,

Upton, "I can answer questions very easily after they are asked, but find great trouble in framing any to answer."

Menlo Park team:

Charles Batchelor, mechanic;

John Kreusi, head of machine shop,

staff of 50;

aim was to produce "a minor invention every ten days and a big thing every six months or so."


October, 1879, carbonized cotton filament stayed lit forty hours.

1880-1882, basis for entire electric light system – invented special fuses, switches, meters, underground power mains, lamps & chandeliers.

NY lawyer Grosvernor Lowrey, arranging investors, public relations;

set of businesses – Edison Machine Works; Edison Electric Tube Company; Edison Lamp Works; Edison Electric Illuminating Company;

Pearl Street Station, world's first central electric power generating station. 

NY financial district

Sept. 4, 1882. 

NY Times: "it seemed almost like writing by daylight."


"the devil in the wires,"

1901 Sears catalog - electric belts.

display purposes.


Next challenge - good electric motor.

Frank Sprague, 1888, Richmond VA;

Electric streetcars twice as fast as horse-drawn cars, cleaner, easily lighted & heated in winter, more powerful.

Within 15 years, all but 1% of Richmond streetcars converted.

Davenport, Iowa tripled profits after converting;


stratification by class. 

1850 Boston 3 mile radius; 1900 ten-mile radius.

Atlantic City,

1917, electric streetcars carrying over 11 billion passengers per year along almost 45,000 miles of track.

small town lines;

"interurban" lines (Ames to DM)


alternating current system, 1882, France;

George Westinghouse, 1886,

"battle of the currents." 

DC advantage in urban area; had good motor.

AC good in rural areas.

Public relations – Edison demonstrations of AC’s high-voltage;

"Westinghousing, the electrocutioner's current." 


Nikola Tesla, born 1856 in Croatia;

studied electrical engineering,

employed in telegraph office,

polyphase AC motor,

1882 Paris Continental Edison Company. 

1888 demonstrated new AC motor;


1893 Westinghouse Chicago's Columbian Exposition - "White city"; electric railway, electric elevators, & electric-powered boats, & electric moving sidewalk. 

General Electric's Tower of Light.

Westinghouse system  Niagara Falls, 1895,


1880s state universities start teaching electric engineering;

new generation of systems-builders, managers & entrepreneurs;

Samuel Insull, head of Chicago Edison (Commonwealth Edison);

innovations - ultramodern central power station, first large-scale steam turbine generator.

dealing with demand, load factors;

promotes use of electricity: "A home without electric light is like a coat without a lining - unfinished, incomplete."

1917, one-third of Chicago households had electric power.

Midwest network of power - 1920s 8% of America's total electric power.







Edison - phonograph, grooved cylinder with tinfoil to catch vibrations engraved by needle.

"I was never so taken aback in my life - I was always afraid of things that worked first time."

1877 public demonstrations;

intended use – office & education;

1900, recordings by Caruso, etc.

1889, "kinetoscope" ("moving view")