Edison’s Notes From the First Day of Power Production and Materials from the World’s First Power Station
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This collection of documents, from Thomas Edison’s chief engineer Charles L. Clarke’s personal papers, reflects the moment when the world changed forever and electric light and power became commercially available. In addition capturing the first day of power production, the entire archive is a testament to Edison’s genius of blending creative inspiration and production methods. THOMAS EDISON.
Archive of the early days of Edison’s work, including his notes from the Pearl Street Station’s first day. 12 items in one folder, various sizes and conditions, 1880-1929.
Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory was called the Invention Factory because he and his employees invented or improved upon hundred of products. He himself held over one thousand U.S. patents. Edison improved the telegraph and telephone, invented the phonograph and the stock ticker, but by far his most famous innovation was lighting the world with electric light bulbs. He and his staff developed the entire system, from power generation to long-lasting bulbs, and the system’s first major test was to light New York City’s Financial District from Edison’s own power station. His first customers included the New York Stock Exchange, the New York Times’ Park Row building, and J.P. Morgan.
The world’s first commercial power plant, the Edison Illuminating Company’s Pearl Street Station in New York, began producing power on September 4, 1882 with a single direct current generator driven by a Porter-Allen steam engine. This archive contains Edison’s experimental notes from two important dates in the history of the plant. One witnessed the dawn of a new era as power produced by the plant flowed to the company’s first 85 customers. The other documents the November day of the “first successful trial of running two entirely separate engines with dynamos in multiple arc” when the generating station’s two, more reliable, Armington and Sims engines were first used in unison. Both sets of notes were written on indicator cards showing the plant’s electrical load. Edison annotated the graph, showing the load for 1,000 and for 400 lights. The cards are further annotated by Edison’s chief engineer, Charles L. Clarke, marking the two historic occasions and attesting that the notes were written in Edison’s hand. Included is Clarke’s 12-page Autograph Manuscript Signed, “Edison’s First Commercial Lamp,” (Schenectady, NY, January 9, 1929) which provides his eyewitness account of Edison’s historic discovery.
Also featured are an invoice (using power lines as letterhead script), from the Brush Electric Illuminating Company to the City of New York, for one month’s supply of electricity to 67 street lights, dated July 1883; two documents discussing the estimated construction costs and specifications for the Pearl Street plant, dated July and October 1881; a clipped Thomas A. Edison signature, undated; a signed cabinet photograph of Charles L. Clarke, collector of this archive; and a December 1882 newspaper clipping detailing the success of Edison’s lighting project.
Additional pieces in this collection are three cyanotype photographs from February 1880: one, “Front of Edison’s Laboratory,” shows Edison seated on the steps of the Menlo Park lab with his father, his two oldest children, and thirteen staff members, all of whom are identified; the second, “Edison Residence, Menlo Park, N.J.” features the family home; and the third and most important, “Interior of Edison’s Laboratory, Menlo Park, N.J.,” which shows four identified staff members working on multiple projects at cluttered workstations. The lab is wired for electric light, and Edison’s organ, used during breaks from night work, is visible in the background.
Charles Lorenzo Clarke (1853-1941) was born in Portland, Maine and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1875. In 1880, he was hired as assistant to Thomas Edison at his Menlo Park, N.J. laboratory. In 1881, he was promoted to chief engineer of the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City and followed the company, now General Electric, to Schenectady in 1886. He was the author of numerous books on electricity.
“Edison’s Story.” http://invention.smithsonian.org/centerpieces/edison/000_story_02.asp
“Micellaneous City News,” New York Times, September 5, 1882, cited
in Carl Sulzberger, “Thomas Edison’s 1882 Pearl Street Generating Station,” “Milestones: Pearl Street Station,” Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers website. http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/images/a/ae/Edison_and_Pearl_Street%2C_Text%2C_031410.pdf
“Edison’s Miracle of Light,” The American Experience.
“Charles Lorenzo Clarke Papers.” http://library.bowdoin.edu/arch/mss/clc2g.shtml