Competition to Edison's Lamp:
Bracketed information [xxx] does not appear on the label.
[xL34.1 - Section #4 introduction label - fourth Edison
free-standing cut out]
[xL34.2 - Section #4 introduction label - fourth Edison
free-standing cut out]
"If you want to succeed, get some enemies."
Edison, as quoted in the Ladies Home Journal, April
Success produced rivals. The gas companies improved their lighting systems, and
other electrical inventors came out with their own systems, many of them borrowing
heavily from Edison's work. Edison himself was spurred on to make further
Some of Edison's rivals are represented in these displays of light bulbs, meters and
Kreidler photograph shows Edison at 48 in 1895.
[xL35 - credit label]
"If I had had my wits about me when your telegram came announcing your
discovery, I might have made you a clean million as it played the very devil with stocks
all over the country."
George Gouraud in a letter to Edison, from London, October
While Edison s initial announcement of his discovery was premature, his reputation
served to cause a sharp drop in the price of gas company stocks. Edison used gas
lighting as the model for his electric lighting system, and his success began a
commercial rivalry between the two technologies. Notice Edison, Joseph Swan, and
other electric lamp makers haunting The Dream of a Gas Manufacturer in the
1884 drawing at right. Improvements in gas quality and Carl Auer von Welsbach s gas
mantle invention were two factors that kept gas lighting competitive with electricity for 30
Case at left:
- Electric lamp fixture, about 1890, from National Park Service
- Lighting fixture with both gas & electric burners, about 1890 [10,175], from
National Park Service
- Electric lamp fixtures converted from gas, about 1890, from Mt. Vernon Museum of
Large photo at far left:
from Sigmund Bergmann & Company catalog, 1882
Large image at right, The Dream of a Gas Manufacturer is from
Punch, 1884. Note Wilhelm and William Siemens (6, 7), Joseph Swan (8),
Edison (12), Hiram Maxim (13), Paul Jablochkoff (18).
[xL36 - credit label]
"You are aware that a seizure was made by us of the Maxim lamp at the Paris
Exposition. Suit was commenced immediately on the seizure."
Report of Messrs. Puskas and Bailey to the Edison Electric Light
Co. of Europe, 1882.
Competition to Edison's lamp came quickly. Some inventors, like Joseph Swan of
England, were already working on the problem and soon produced their own lamps.
Others, like George Westinghouse, brought existing companies into the new field. As a
result, Edison often found himself in court, defending his lamp patents and filing for
The lamps in this case show a variety of designs that appeared within about twenty
years of Edison's first commercial lamp.
- Sawyer-Man, about 1885 [327,831], from Chicago Museum of Science &
- Swan, 1881 [323,557]
- Edison, 1886 [181,804], from General Electric Company
- Edison, 1888 [327,785], from Chicago Museum of Science & Industry
- Westinghouse "stopper", about 1894 [1997.0388.80], from General Electric
- Thomson-Houston decorative, about 1890 [1997.0388.79], from General Electric
- Sterling, about 1900 [327,839], from the Chicago Museum of Science &
- Fostoria, about 1900 [327,830], from the Chicago Museum of Science &
- Brush-Swan, about 1885 [318,641], from Princeton University
- Maxim, 1881 [181,980], from Sarah J. Farmer
- New Type Edison, about 1890 [318,666], from Princeton University
- Westinghouse, about 1890 [311,930], from Newark College of Engineering
- Vitrite-Luminoid, 1890 [318,674], from Princeton University
- Columbia "USONA", about 1905 [320,675]
- United Electric Improvement Co., about 1894 [327,856], from the Chicago Museum
of Science & Industry
- Columbia, about 1890 [327,842], from the Chicago Museum of Science &
- Phelps "Hy-Lo", about 1895 [230,836], from General Electric Company
- Perkins, about 1890 [325,794], from Thompson Equipment Company
- Peerless, about 1890 [335,363], from Robert F. Hoke
- Weston, about 1887 [318,634], from Princeton University
- Maxim, about 1881 [320,673], from IBM (W. J. Hammer collection)
- Ediswan, about 1885 [327,811], from Chicago Museum of Science & Industry
- Elblight, about 1890 [323,559]
- Weston, 1882 [318,642], from Princeton University
- Imperial Bryan-Marsh, about 1900 [327,799], from Chicago Museum of Science
- Sunbeam, 1900 [327,853], from Chicago Museum of Science & Industry
- United Electric Improvement Co., about 1894 [327,829], from Chicago Museum of
Science & Industry
- Shelby, about 1905 [318,607], from Princeton University
- Knowles, about 1895 [314,289], from C. Locklin
- Pond, about 1895 [314,289], from C. Locklin
- K&W, about 1895 [314,289], from C. Locklin
- McNutt, about 1895 [327,840], from Chicago Museum of Science & Industry
- Capital, about 1900 [327,796], from Chicago Museum of Science & Industry
- Independent, about 1895 [327,800], from Chicago Museum of Science &
- Buckeye, about 1895 [327,792], from Chicago Museum of Science & Industry
- Ediswan socket, about 1890 [320,761], from IBM (W. J. Hammer collection)
- United Electric Improvement Co. socket, about 1894 [327,857], from Chicago
Museum of Science & Industry
- Swan socket [320,763], from IBM (W. J. Hammer collection)
- Insulite socket for Thomson-Houston lamp, about 1895 [320,748], from IBM (W. J.
- Perkins socket for Westinghouse lamp, about 1899 [320,746], from IBM (W. J.
- Nernst lamp, 1902 [214,331], from Nernst Lamp Company
[Label sL11 - Swan]
Joseph W. Swan (1828 -1914)
Swan had a varied inventive career, with early contributions to photography. His
carbon filament lamp anticipated Edison's by several months, but it had a low resistance
and was unsuitable for commercial use. Swan's 1883 cellulose filament became an
[Label sL12 - Nernst]
Walther H. Nernst (1864 -1941)
Nernst, a professor of physics at Göttingen and Berlin, received a Nobel Prize
in Chemistry in 1920 for work in thermodynamics. As a sidelight, in the 1890s he
invented an efficient lamp in which the filament heated rare-earth salts, which then
glowed. The lamp was very efficient, but too expensive to be practical.
[Label sL13 - Latimer]
Lewis H. Latimer (1848 -1928)
An African American, born in Chelsea, Mass., Latimer trained as a draftsman at a
Boston patent law firm. There he made drawings for Alexander Graham Bell, among
others. He joined the Maxim company in 1880 and invented a means of producing
improved carbon filaments. In 1884 he moved to Edison's Lamp Works and had a
distinguished career as a draftsman.
[xL43 - credit label]
These meters represent some of the many companies that competed in the electric
- Thomson voltmeter, about 1891 [318,351], from Princeton University
- National Electric ammeter, [322,811], from the State University of New York,
- Slattery ammeter [318,376], from Princeton University
- Edison ammeter [313,670], from Weston Electrical Instrument Corp.
- Hartmann & Braun ammeter [317,692], from Iowa State University
- Weston ammeter, about 1890 [319,238], from Daystrom Inc.
- Thomson-Houston voltmeter, about 1890 [219,027], from Potomac Electric Power
- Thomson-Rice ammeter [318,356], from Princeton University
- General Electric voltmeter, about 1903 [334,396], from the American Museum of
- Norton voltmeter [314,968], from E. P. Custis
- Westinghouse ammeter [318,320], from Princeton University
- Gardiner "Electro Magnetic Meter", [319,443], from Mrs. Donald Bliss
- Stanley phase indicator [314,411], from Weston Electrical Instrument Corp.
- Edison General Electric ammeter, 1890 [313,286], from Weston Electrical
- Stanley static ground detector, about 1896 [314,459], from Weston Electrical
- Ft. Wayne ammeter, about 1890 [318,350], from Princeton University
- Ft. Wayne ammeter, about 1895 [326,483], from General Electric Company
- Biddle wattmeter, about 1895 [326,921], from Trinity College
- Weston voltmeter, about 1900 [336,453], from Donald Hoke
- Ft. Wayne volt-meter, about 1895 [1998.0112.01], from Vincent King
- Western Electric voltmeter, from the National Park Service
- Thomson wattmeter, about 1887 [318,301], from Princeton University
- Western Electric ammeter, [334,385], from the American Museum of Electricity
[Label sL14 - Shallenberger]
Oliver B. Shallenberger (1860 -1898)
A graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy, Shallenberger left the Navy in 1884 to join
the Westinghouse company. In 1888 he invented an induction meter for measuring
alternating current, a critical element in the Westinghouse AC system.
[xL48 - credit label]
From the beginning, many of Edison s rivals used alternating current generators.
- Ferranti generator, 1883 [327,573], from Sebastian de Ferranti
- Brush generator, 1884 [315,075], from Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Thomson-Houston generator, 1885 [181,720], from General Electric Company
[xL44 - information label]
The Alternating Alternative
"It will never be free from danger."
Edison in a memorandum concerning the Westinghouse AC system,
"Tell your father I was wrong."
Edison to George Stanley, son of William Stanley who had invented
an AC transformer for Westinghouse, 1908
In the long term, Edison was certainly wrong in assessing the problems of
alternating current. But at the time, he had good reasons for sticking with direct current.
The reason for using AC was that it could be easily converted to high voltage,
transmitted over long distances with low losses, and then converted back to low voltage
to be used by the customers. But even at low voltage, there was evidence that AC was
more dangerous than DC, and there was the possibility that the transformer might break
down and deliver high voltage to the home. Even a few such accidents could be very
harmful to the growth of this new industry.
Although both arc and incandescent lights could use AC, existing motors (especially
important for the growing street railway industry) and meters could not.
Early AC transformers were inefficient.
Electrochemical processes used DC.
Batteries could store DC during periods of low demand.
Edison also may have been influenced by the commitment he had made to his own
DC system and by the difficulty of visualizing the operation of AC.
[Label sL15 - Tesla]
Nikola Tesla (1856 -1943)
Born of Serb parents in Croatia, Tesla was educated in Europe. He came to New
York in 1884 and worked briefly for Edison. He patented a practical AC motor in 1888.
Other AC patents were used in the Westinghouse generators at Niagara Falls. He is
also known for high-frequency experiments and inventions in the field of radio.
[xL45 - information label]
The first practical AC transformer was developed by Frenchman Lucien Gaulard and
Englishman John Gibbs; improvements were made at the Ganz company in Budapest
and, in the United States, by William Stanley who was working for George
A practical AC motor was invented by Nikola Tesla in 1888 (see example in the
case behind you).
[information about transformers]
[xL46/47 - information and credit label]
Push the button to your right for a demonstration of a transformer in action. The
input is at 125 volts. The transformer steps the electric voltage down by using the
principle of induction -- 125-volt alternating current in one coil induces 3-volt AC
in a second coil.
Cases below, left to right:
- Gaulard & Gibbs transformer, 1883 [311,853], from Westinghouse Electric
- Stanley transformer, reproduction, 1886 [322,808]
- Ferranti transformer [327,571], from Sebastian de Ferranti
- Westinghouse transformer, 1887 [318,553], from Princeton University
[xL108 - information and credit label]
Watt-hour meters measure the amount of electrical energy consumed. These
examples are from the 1890s.
- Thomson [334,376], from American Museum of Electricity
- Sangamo [334,416], from American Museum of Electricity
- Westinghouse Shallenberger, [322,183], from Massachusetts Institute of
- Westinghouse, [334,377], from American Museum of Electricity
- Stanley, [334,389], from American Museum of Electricity
- Stanley, [334,399], from American Museum of Electricity