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Promoting Edison's Lamp:
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Bracketed information [xxx] does not appear on the label.


[xL26.1 - Section #3 introduction label - third Edison free-standing cut out]

Step 3:Promotion


[xL26.2 - Section #3 introduction label - third Edison free-standing cut out]

"Mr. Edison's exhibition is the wonder of the show."
London Standard describing an international electrical exhibition in 1882

Edison had a fine sense of the value of promotion. His own renown as an inventor--especially of the phonograph and of an improved telephone-- helped him get money from investors. But he also took care to have impressive exhibits at the international fairs. Many of these exhibits were organized by William J. Hammer, one of his Menlo Park employees. Edison also pressed ahead quickly with some highly- publicized lighting installations.

Emil P. Spahn photograph shows Edison at 33 in 1880.


[xL25 - information and credit label]

"... the first electric sign which was ever made [I] constructed in December, 1881, and hung up in the Crystal Palace in London, England. It flashed the name "Edison" by means of a huge lever spring switch."
William Hammer, in a lecture to the New York Electrical Society, 1913

Hammer's flashing "Edison" signs appeared in several European venues and attracted much notice. In an age before movies or television, live demonstrations at fairs and expositions were important promotional opportunities for cutting-edge technologies.

Below left:
display at Cincinnati Exposition, 1885

Three pictures in center
Paris Centennial Exposition, 1889

Below right:
William J. Hammer with some of his collections.

Webnote: 3-1


[Label sL8 - Jehl]

Francis Jehl (1860 -1941)

Born in New York City, Jehl had little schooling. He became an assistant to Edison at Menlo Park and went to Europe in 1882 to promote the Edison System. On his return he helped reconstruct the Menlo Park laboratory at Dearborn, Michigan.


[Label sL9 - Upton]

Francis R. Upton (1852 -1921)

As a graduate of Bowdoin, with graduate work at Princeton and in Germany, Upton was the best-educated of Edison's assistants. Nicknamed Culture by his colleagues, worked on the light bulb, the generator, and other projects.


[Label sL10 - Batchelor]

Charles W. Batchelor (1845 -1910)

Batchelor was born in London and trained as a mechanic. He came to the U. S. at age 22 and soon joined Edison, becoming his closest associate. Batch went to Europe in 1881 to promote the Edison system, returning to head up the Edison Machine Works.


[xL27 - information and credit label]

S.S. Columbia

"Dispatch received this morning from steamer Columbia states she arrived safe in Rio and that the Edison light is all right."
Charles Mott, Edison assistant, writing in his diary, May 31, 1880

The first practical application of the Edison lighting system was on a steamship bound from New York to San Francisco. All 115 cardboard-filament lamps survived the two-month voyage. The original system continued to operate (with replacement bulbs) for another 15 years.

Painting of Columbia [160,081], from John Roach and Son


[label xL32 - Pearl Street map]

Attracting Investors

In a twinkling, the area bounded by Spruce, Wall, Nassau, and Pearl Streets was in a glow."
New York Herald, 5 September 1882

The site for Edison s first U.S. central generating station had to satisfy both engineering and business needs. Use of direct current at 100 volts to power the new light bulbs resulted in a practical limitation customers could be no further than ½ mile from the generator. To promote the system, a high profile location was called for. Edison chose a site in the heart of New York s financial district, 255 and 257 Pearl Street, as seen on the map at right. On September 4, 1882, he threw a switch in the office of one of his main investors, J. Pierpont Morgan, and initiated service to the area.

A major factor in Edison s success lay in his ability to attract large amounts of money to fund research and development. Financing for Edison s initial light bulb experiments had mainly come from telegraph businessmen who knew him and had faith in his abilities. In 1878, they and the banking house of Drexel-Morgan paid $50,000 for 1/6 share in the Edison Electric Light Co. Edison held the other 5/6 share.

To finance Pearl Street Station, more money was needed and this same group established the Edison Electric Illuminating Co. in December, 1880. While raising $750,000 new money, both Edison s share and his control of the company declined. The other investors were cautious about engaging in manufacturing and marketing activities, but Edison was anxious to move ahead and sold some of his stock in order to finance new activities. These included:

  • Edison Lamp Company (October 1880), to manufacture light bulbs
  • Edison Machine Works (1881) to produce generators
  • Edison Tube Works (1881) to make underground connectors
  • Edison Company for Isolated Lighting (1884) to promote small generating stations for individual businesses and homes.

In 1884, although he no longer controlled the Edison Electric Light Company, Edison persuaded the other investors, notably Morgan, to support a more vigorous program of expansion. By 1886, total capitalization reached $1.5 million, and Edison moved to West Orange, New Jersey, to set up his new laboratory

He kept controlling interest in the machine and lamp works, but sold these after the several companies combined to form Edison General Electric in 1889. Though Edison was cool to the idea, this new company merged with the rival firm of Thomson-Houston in 1892 to form General Electric Co.


[xL31.1 - information label]

Pearl Street

"...my system of lighting having been perfected should be promoted."
Edison, as quoted in the Electrical World, August 1883

Edison's financial backers would have been content for him to license his
invention for others to use. But Edison was not just an inventor. He was also an entrepreneur he wanted to make sure that his invention was used and that it was used correctly. He therefore constructed at Pearl Street in New York City a full-scale central station that began operations on September 4, 1882.

A focal point for further promotional efforts, the station gave a clear demonstration that his electric lighting system worked. By then, in addition to the light bulb, he had invented many additional items necessary for the system. These included a meter (to measure how much electricity the customer used) and an improved generator.

Edison went on to develop manufacturing plants for light bulbs, generators, and other system components. Beginning in 1886, these were consolidated in Schenectady, N.Y.

[Curator's note. This label was changed during the 2003 renovation. The following is the original text of the label.]

Pearl Street

"...my system of lighting having been perfected should be promoted."
Edison, as quoted in the Electrical World, August 1883

Edison s financial backers would have been content for him to license his invention for others to use. But Edison was not just an inventor; as an entrepreneur he wanted to make sure that his invention was used and that it was used correctly. He therefore constructed a full-scale central station at Pearl Street in New York City that began operations on September 4, 1882. It was a focal point for further promotional efforts, a clear demonstration that his electric lighting system worked. By now, in addition to the light bulb, he had invented numerous additional items necessary for the system, including especially a meter (to measure how much electricity the customer used) and an improved generator.

Edison went on to develop manufacturing plants for light bulbs, generators, and other system components. These were consolidated in Schenectady, N.Y., beginning in 1886.


[xL31.2 - credit label]

Pearl Street

  1. Knife switch, 1880s [318,717], from Princeton University
  2. Chemical meter, about 1882 [262,476], from Easton Gas & Electric Co.
  3. Ammeter, 1880s [331,146], from Western Union
  4. Edison fan-motor, [337,118], from James M. and Reathie L. McKee.
  5. Cable sample, about 1885 [314,919], from Consolidated Edison Co. of New York
  6. Junction box, about 1885 [314,917], from Consolidated Edison Co. of New York
  7. Knife Switch, 1880s [318,726], from Princeton University
  8. Knife Switch, 1880s [318,719], from Princeton University
  9. Knife Switch, 1880s [318,718], from Princeton University
  10. Rotary switch, 1880s [328,082], from George C. Maynard
  11. Rotary switch, 1880s [273,182], from Charles H. Newton
  12. Rotary switch (with cover), 1887 [181,754], from George C. Maynard

Opposite wall: Pearl Street Station, model [309,605], from New York Edison Co.

Webnote: 3-2


[xL30 - information label]

Testing The System

"Last week we lighted up the Lithograph Establishment of Messrs. Hinds &
Ketcham in N. Y."
Edison letter, February 11, 1881

"There is only one system, and that is Edison's"
London Daily News, 1882

Prior to the opening of Pearl Street Station, Edison tested his lighting system and gained practical experience with smaller-scale installations.

Holborn Viaduct

William Hammer and other Edison associates established a demonstration
central power system at Holborn Viaduct in London. It started operation
January 12, 1882. By the time it closed down early in 1884, it had a
capability of lighting over 3000 lamps.

The map above shows the location of Holborn Viaduct in London. Photographs at the left show the Viaduct area as it appeared a few years later.

from William J. Hammer.

[Curator's note. This label was changed during the 2003 renovation. The following is the original text of the label.]

Holborn Viaduct

"There is only one system, and that is Edison's"
London Daily News, 1882

William Hammer and other Edison associates established a full-scale demonstration system at Holborn Viaduct in London. It started operation January 12, 1882, and by the time it closed down early in 1884, it had a capacity of over 3000 lamps.

Photographs show the Holborn Viaduct area as it appeared a few years later, from William J. Hammer.


[xL24 - information and credit label]

Hinds-Ketcham

This was the first commercial installation of the new electric light. The power
came from a stand-alone "isolated plant" rather than a central station, but still
served to test system components in everyday use.

1. Dynamo switch, 1881 [180,944]
2. Switch, 1881 [180,942]
3. "Safety plug" fuse, 1881 [180,943]
4. "Safety plug" fuse, 1881 [180,946]
5. Light Bulb, 1881 [180,931]
6. Lamp fixture with socket, 1881 [180,940]
7. Lamp fixture with socket, 1881 [180,940]
8. Resistance coil, 1881 [180,941]
9. Printer's Lamp, 1881 [180,939]

All items from Hinds-Ketchum & Co.

  [Curator's note. This label was changed during the 2003 renovation. The following is the original text of the label.]

Hinds-Ketcham

"Last week we lighted up the Lithograph Establishment of Messrs. Hinds & Ketcham in N. Y."
Edison letter, February 11, 1881

This was the first commercial installation of the new electric light.

  1. Dynamo switch, 1881 [180,944]
  2. Switch, 1881 [180,942]
  3. "Safety plug" fuse, 1881 [180,943]
  4. "Safety plug" fuse, 1881 [180,946]
  5. Light Bulb, 1881 [180,931]
  6. Lamp fixture with socket, 1881 [180,940]
  7. Lamp fixture with socket, 1881 [180,940]
  8. Resistance coil, 1881 [180,941]
  9. Printer's Lamp, 1881 [180,939]

All items from Hinds-Ketchum & Co.



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