thomas edison > a lifetime of invention : inventing the incandescent lamp
thomas edison > inventing the incandescent lamp : promoting the lamp, 1879-1880


Promoting the Lamp

For Edison’s second public exhibition, he introduced an improved lamp and a complete electrical system.  Edison had searched for an improved material for his lamp filament.  Edison sent his staff around the world collecting plants with strong fibers and he soon began targeting bamboo trees as the likely source for his new lamp filament.

With an improved lamp underway, Edison also developed an underground distribution system along the roads of Menlo Park that premiered on Election Day, 1880.  Because it was a relatively small demonstration that would require less than 100 volts of electricity, Edison did not believe the wires would need to be insulated.  Leakage from the wires caused the first test to fail and Edison and his staff worked to develop an insulating material.  His staff created a coating of asphalt mixed with linseed oil, paraffin, and beeswax that was applied to muslin strips which were then wrapped around the conducting wires.

On Election Day 1880 the entire circuit was ready and Edison told his staff to activate the lights if James Garfield was elected President of the United States.  When Edison’s staff received word that Garfield had won the election, Menlo Park suddenly “blazed” with light and government officials, press, and interested tourists all ventured to the small town over the following months to witness the new spectacle.


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