thomas edison > a lifetime of invention : inventing the incandescent lamp
thomas edison > inventing the incandescent lamp : pearl street station


Pearl Street Station

Edison set his first commercial central station project into motion on December 20, 1880 when the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York was chartered to deliver electric service to lower Manhattan.  It took nearly two years to complete the project.  Edison personally directed the work of transforming his invention to a larger, practical scale.  His installation included not only the lights and the dynamos, but also underground tubing and insulation for the wire, shafting and pulleys that were used for connecting the dynamos to steam engines, lamp sockets, switches, meters, fuses, cutouts, brackets, junction-boxes, and various other electrical instruments.  Edison and his staff had to invent many of these items in order to create a successful system.

Edison built his first jumbo dynamo at the new Edison Machine Works in 1881 and also developed a parallel circuit with feeders to help maintain the voltage in the system, which was used to power one square mile in New York’s financial district.

By August 1882 Edison had laid 18 miles of tubing, wired 900 buildings for electricity and installed thousands of lamps in sockets.  Edison was prepared to start the system on September 4, 1882 but wanted no publicity in case there were problems with the system.  The test was successful, and Edison started serving 59 customers that day.  Pearl Street station utilized six of Edison’s “jumbo” dynamos, which could power a total of 7,200 lights. 

The Edison jumbo dynamos at Pearl Street each weighed 27-tons and generated 1000 kilowatts, enough for each to power 1,200 lights. The average home today uses 30 light bulbs.  Pearl Street Station burned in 1890, destroying all but one of the six “jumbo” dynamos, which powered an equivalent of 7,200 lights in a one-square mile area of New York City.  In 1993, there were 523 million light bulbs in use just in homes within the United States.  A recent 775 megawatt power generation project announced by GE will supply enough power for 800,000 homes.


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