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Consequences of 19th Century Lighting:

Bracketed information [xxx] does not appear on the label.

[xL50.1 - Section #5 introduction label - fifth Edison free-standing cut out]

Step 5: Consequences

[xL50.2 - Section #5 introduction label - fifth Edison free-standing cut out]

"I have accomplished all I promised."
Thomas Edison, to New York Sun reporter, 1882

This statement indicated Edison's pleasure upon opening the Pearl Street station. But even he would have had difficulty predicting the consequences of his invention. It stimulated a lighting industry that quickly spread through cities and towns across the country. And it helped establish the need for large central stations, beginning with Niagara Falls. Ironically, since these stations would rely on alternating current for efficient long-distance transmission, they would lead to the abandonment of Edison's direct current systems in most applications.

Over the course of the next half century two broad social effects developed that seem especially significant. 1) We now had complete control over light in homes and offices, independent of the time of day. 2) The electric light brought networks of wires into homes and offices, making it relatively easy to add appliances and other machines.

Photo by Falk shows Edison at 57 in 1904.

[xL109 - information and credit label - engines platform]

By the end of the 1880s three firms dominated the lighting field: Edison, Westinghouse, and Thomson Houston. Edison stayed with direct current, the others used alternating current. In 1892, the Edison company and Thomson Houston merged to form General Electric.

Right side of platform:

  1. Edison Z-type generator, rated at 60 lamps (52 amps at 110 volts), about 1888, [320,572] from University of Minnesota
  2. Voltmeter, 1880s, [305,262] from Roller-Smith Company
  3. Voltmeter, 1880s
  4. Fuse, 1880s, [318,717] from Princeton University
  5. Bergmann ammeter, 1880s, [314,474] from Weston Electrical Instrument Company
  6. Rheostat, 1880s

Left side of platform:

  1. Westinghouse single-phase generator (220 volts, 40 amps), about 1888, [318,252] from Cornell University
  2. Exciter generator, 1880s, [322,556] from Princeton University
  3. Voltmeter, 1880s, [318,277] from Princeton University
  4. Fuse, 1880s
  5. Fuse, 1880s

[xL117 - information label]

"Someday I'll harness that power."
Nikola Tesla, as a young boy looking at a picture of Niagara Falls, according to a recollection in 1915

The world's first large-scale central generating station opened at Niagara Falls in 1895, with some of its output transmitted twenty miles away to Buffalo. It employed two-phase AC techniques invented by Nikola Tesla and was thus more efficient than previous alternating current systems.

In succeeding years, large centralized AC generating stations would eventually link together the many local systems (DC and AC) in cities and towns across the country into a national grid.

Webnote: 5-1
[information about Tesla and Niagara Falls]

[xL110 - credit label]

  1. Westinghouse dynamo nameplate, 1897, [322,844] from Niagara-Mohawk Power Co.
  2. Turbine model, 1892, [315,850] from Niagara-Mohawk Power Co.
  3. Generator model
  4. Cable section, 1895, [320, 523] from IBM (W. J. Hammer collection)
  5. Porcelain insulator, 1895, [318,344] from Princeton University

[xL54 - information and credit label inside case]

Much of the current from the Niagara generators was used locally.

  1. Carborundum sample, from Mrs. Edward Acheson
  2. Carborundum sample-wheel
  3. Aluminum samples [MT2373-2389], from Pittsburgh Reduction Co.

Webnote 5-2
[information about aluminum and Acheson]

[xL111 - credit label inside free-standing case]
Edison 6kw motor, about 1883 [319,260] from Brown University

[xL112 - credit label inside free-standing case]
Tesla AC motor, 1888, [311,854] from Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing Co.
C&C sewing machine motor, [313,044] from Crocker-Wheeler Electric Manufacturing Co.

[xL113 - credit label inside free-standing case]

  1. General Electric model D-12 toaster, about 1910, [329,287] from Priscilla Griffin de Mauduit
  2. Universal model E945 toaster, about 1920, [334,586] from Edmond Chenette
  3. Universal / LFC model E9410 toaster, about 1928, [1991.1.1] gift of Richard J. & Fannie V. Beall

[xL114 - credit label inside free-standing case]

  1. Waters-Genter model 1A1 toaster, about 1926, [1992.338.19] Gift of Joyce Barth & Florence E. Scuderi from the Belford Giberson Collection
  2. Universal / LFC model E7212F toaster, 1930s, [1992.338.28] Gift of Joyce Barth & Florence E. Scuderi from the Belford Giberson Collection
  3. Sunbeam model B toaster, about 1925, [336,530] from Mr. & Mrs. Harry Failing

[xL115 - credit label inside free-standing case]

  1. Estate Electric model 77 toaster, about 1925, [333,743] from Mrs. William Josten
  2. Toast-O-Lator model J toaster, about 1940, [1988.227.01]

[xL116 - credit label inside free-standing case]

  1. T.A. Edison "Edicraft" toaster, about 1929, [8010] from the National Park Service
  2. Toastmaster model 1A5 toaster, about 1950, [1987.0368.01]
  3. Universal / LFC model E7222 toaster, about 1925, [1992.338.04] Gift of Joyce Barth & Florence E. Scuderi from the Belford Giberson Collection

[xL55 - information and credit label - appliance case - left hand section]

Interior Lighting

The electric lamp gave us complete control over lighting of homes and work places. By the time of the Roosevelt quote this was true (with the help of the REA) even in rural areas. The consequence was to interrupt the normal rhythms of life and to alter for all time the schedules we have for work and leisure.

A Danish immigrant, Frode Rambusch, started a business in New York in the 1890s designing murals and stained glass windows for public buildings. He soon expanded activities to make special lighting fixtures, incorporating artificial light into the architecture. At right (9) is his first fixture. It was designed in 1908 to shield the eyes while illuminating a mural he had created. The overhead lamp (1939) is also by Rambusch.


  1. Lyhne desk lamp, about 1911, [1979.1044.01] from Marabeth S. Finn
  2. "Solar" lamp converted to electricity, about 1920, [70.37] from Clara B. Blackmar
  3. Kerosene lamp converted to electricity, about 1920, [65.180] from Mrs. Fielding Pope Meigs
  4. 1840s gas lighting fixtures converted to electricity around 1885, from the Mt. Vernon Museum of Incandescent Lighting
  5. Combination electric and gas lighting fixture, about 1895, from the Mt. Vernon Museum of Incandescent Lighting

  6. Wall-mounted sconce, about 1920, [1981.595.02]
  7. "Watchdog Nite-Lite", about 1950, [1991.837.01]
  8. Sign from U. S. Patent Office, 1930s, [1995.0340.01] from Robert C. Reed
  9. Rambusch church wall-fixture, about 1909, [1992.0284.01] from Rambusch Decorating Co.
  10. Rambusch church wall-fixture, [1992.0284.02] from Rambusch Decorating Co.

  11. Table lamp with Emeralite shade, 1907 [1990.136.02]
  12. Flashlights, 1930s, from Eveready Battery Co. Inc.
  13. Ever Ready Flashlight Cane,1910, from Lawrence N. Ravick
  14. Electric table lamp, 1910s, from Miss M.H. Avery
  15. Photographic pendant lamp, about 1899 [x-93-1]

  16. Rambusch ceiling fixture, 1939, [1992.0284.03] from Rambusch Decorating Co.


  1. GE National Mazda advertisement, 1920
  2. Photo of lighting engineer Matthew Luckiesh's living room, 1939, General Electric Lighting Co.
  3. Lighting a Drawing Room, 1927
  4. Photo of lighting engineer Matthew Luckiesh's living room, 1939, General Electric Lighting Co.
  5. "One Corner of a Dining-Room Converted into an Attractive Nursery," 1927
  6. Office with make-shift electrical installation, about 1912, from General Electric Lighting Co.
  7. Diagram "Layout of Outlets for a Typical Small House," 1922, General Electric Lighting Co.
  8. Lighting A Bed Room, 1927
  9. GE National Mazda advertisement, 1925, from General Electric Lighting Co.

Webnote: 5-4
[information about Rambusch, lighting designers]

[xL56 - information and credit label - appliance case - right hand section]


"Electricity is a modern necessity of life."
(Franklin Roosevelt, at Rural Electrification Administration celebration, 1938)

The electric lamp, in effect, paid for a network of generators and wires. These were available for a whole new class of inventions--appliances and equipment that by the 1930s had transformed the home and the workplace.

  1. General Electric heater, about 1893, [330,674] from Philip Klein
  2. Hoover vacuum cleaner, 1908, [330,997] from The Hoover Company
  3. American Electrical Heater tea kettle, 1904, [330,712] from Lawrence R. Friel
  4. Spot Reducer massager, [1991.0410.02] from Bernard S. Finn

  5. Egg stirrer, [333,893] from Alfred T. Giller
  6. Manning Bowman cigar lighter, 1911, [330,718] from Mrs. Walter Lindquist
  7. Cigar lighter, [1990.3115] from Bernard S. Finn
  8. Shaving mug, 1914, [330,714] from LeRoy Halsey
  9. Daniel Woodhead glue pot, [330, 721] from Thomas J. Kliminiski

  10. Appliance wattmeter, [314,346] from Weston Electrical Instrument Co.
  11. Weller soldering-iron prototype, 1941, [1989.0643.02] from Carl Weller
  12. GE Hotpoint heating pad, [330,665] from General Electric Co.
  13. Kimco electric socks, [1990.0401] from Bernard S. Finn
  14. Simplex waffle iron, about 1910, [330,770] from Mrs. Ted Bussman

  15. Universal kitchen set, 1926, [1979.1044.02] from Marabeth S. Finn
  16. Iron, 1906, [329,791]
  17. Marshmallow toaster, about 1909, [330,776] from Mr. and Mrs. Samuel F. Hunter
  18. Kenmore hair dryer, about 1949, [1991.0410.03] from Bernard S. Finn
  19. Curtis & Crocker fan, 1886, [330,647] from Chicago Museum of Science & Industry
  20. General Electric fan, about 1892, [330,673] from General Electric Company
  21. Edison Electric fan, [328,749] from Dept. of Physics, Amherst College

    Above, outside case

  22. Hunter ceiling fans, 1897, [1997.0387.25.01 and .02] from the Mt. Vernon Museum of Incandescent Lighting

Webnote 5-3
[reference to electrification]

[xL57 - electric coal cutter label]

"It is curious to watch two men entering what is little more than a crack in the earth, and taking with them a powerful machine which is receiving power from the surface by means of an electric cable."
Charles R. Gibson, reporting on the use of electricity for mining in 1906.

Gibson wrote a book-length survey of the state of the electric arts entitled, The Romance of Modern Electricity. The title reflected his sense of wonder at the marvellous [sic] difference that the advent of electricity has made in everyday life. That difference became practical through the development of an interconnected system of large, central generating stations, high-voltage AC transmission lines, and lower voltage AC and DC distribution lines. An integrated system that could make electricity and deliver it hundreds of miles to wherever it was wanted -- be that in tall buildings or deep mines as seen in the image to your right.

Coal Cutter

The machine below literally undermined a coal-seam by cutting a slot about 4 feet deep along the base of the seam. Gravity or, if necessary, explosives would then bring the seam down. Automating this part of the job doubled each miner s daily output, according to Gibson.

Electric coal-cutter, [MN7891-A], from Jeffery Manufacturing Co.

[label xL57.2]

Switch Panels

Opened in 1889 as a central generating station, the 26th Street Station in New York City provided direct current power to the surrounding area. When the Waterside generating station began providing alternating current service to all of Manhattan about 10 years later, rotary converters and the necessary control equipment were installed at 26th Street. Used as a substation, its operators converted 3-phase, 6600-volt, 25-cycle AC from Waterside to 120 / 240 DC needed by customers. The panels to the left were removed from 26th Street after it ceased operation in 1977.

Left to right:
AC control board, Group switch and circuit breakers, and DC feeder selector switch assembly, [1980.0405.02, .03, .04] from Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, Inc.

[label xL57.1]


The elevator to your left was installed in the Carnegie mansion at 2 East 91st New York, in 1902. While this installation could be considered a luxury (it stopped at five floors and the basement), elevators were essential to the new skyscrapers.

Elevator, 1902, [1998.0162.01] from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts & Design.

[label xL57.3]

Street Car Controller

Aside from lighting, the most important early use of electric power was for street railways. The first practical system was installed by Frank Sprague in Richmond in 1888, and others quickly followed. Within 15 years over 20,000 miles of street railway lines had been built in American cities, almost completely replacing horse-drawn cars.

Shown here is a Westinghouse streetcar controller of about 1910 [321,385], from Robert M. Vogel.

Webnote: 5-5

[Label sL16 - Short]

Sydney H. Short (1858 -1902)

Short was born in Columbus, Ohio. After graduating from Ohio State University, he became professor of physics and chemistry at the University of Denver. He held over 500 patents, many in the field of streetcar railways.

[Label sL17 - Van Depoele]

Charles J. Van Depoele (1846 -1892)

A native of Belgium, Van Depoele came to the United States in 1869 and settled in Detroit. He invented an arc lamp in 1870, but is especially known for developing a form of electric railway using overhead wires.

[Label sL18 - Sprague]

Frank J. Sprague (1857 -1934)

A graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy, Sprague covered the Paris (1881) and London (1882) electrical exhibitions for the Navy. He worked briefly for Edison and later developed a constant-speed motor and an overhead trolley pick-up device important for street railways.

[Label sL19 - Daft]

Leo Daft (1843 -1922)

Born in Great Britain, Daft came to the United States in 1866. In 1879 he joined the New York Electric Light Company and transformed it into the Daft Electric Company, which became a major competitor in the street railway business.

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