Last week marked the 130th anniversary of the day the power was turned on at the first permanent central power station for electric lighting, the Pearl Street Station, in New York City. On 4 September 1882, Thomas A. Edison’s station began serving its first customers, which included the New York Stock Exchange and the New York Times. The facility launched the modern electric utility. And with reliable power generation and its efficient and safe distribution, the Pearl Street Station made incandescent lighting possible at a price that could compete with gas lighting. [The illustration above depicts the station's dynamo, now known as a generator, room.]
IEEE honored the station in May 2011 with an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing. You can learn more about the history of the Pearl Street Station in an article we published in July 2011, as well as a slideshow depicting artist’s renderings of the station and photos from a recent excavation of the site.
A few weeks ago a representative of Seth Kaller, Inc., in White Plains, N.Y., which acquires, authenticates, and appraises historic documents and artifacts called me because he had read my article and had some interesting news to share. It turns out the company had a collection of rare documents from that first day including Edison’s experimental notes as well as “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,” according to a statement on the company’s website. “Both sets of notes were written on indicator cards showing the plant’s electrical load. Edison annotated the graph, showing the load for 1000 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.”
In addition to the notes, the collection includes photographs of Edison sitting on the steps of his Menlo Park, N.J., lab with his father, two oldest children, and 13 employees; the inside of that lab with four of the researchers working on projects at a cluttered workstation; and Edison’s home in Menlo Park.
If you’re an Edison fan or a history buff, you can check out clips of these documents and photographs on the Seth Kaller website.
Image: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Edison National Historic Site