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History of Electricity

Thomas Edison: Improved Stock Ticker, Lamps, and Dynamos


Thomas Edison - Phonograph

Early advertisement for phonograph, showing the inventor Thomas Edison.

< Early Life of Thomas Edison

Not long afterwards Thomas Edison released the invention which started him on the road to success. This was the improved stock ticker, and the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company paid him 40,000 dollars for it, more money than he had expected. "I had made up my mind," Edison wrote, "that, taking into consideration the time and killing pace I was working at, I should be entitled to $5000, but could get along with $3000." The money was paid by check and Thomas Edison had never received a check before, he had to be told how to cash it.

Work Done in the Newark Shop

Thomas Edison immediately set up a shop in Newark. He improved the system of automatic telegraphy (telegraph machine) that was in use at that time and introduced it into England. He experimented with submarine cables and worked out a system of quadruplex telegraphy by which one wire was made to do the work of four.

These two inventions were bought by Jay Gould, owner of the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company. Gould paid 30,000 dollers for the quadruplex system, but refused to pay for the automatic telegraph. Gould had bought Western Union, his only competition. "He then," wrote Edison, "repudiated his contract with the automatic telegraph people and they never received a cent for their wires or patents, and I lost three years of very hard labor. But I never had any grudge against him because he was so able in his line, and as long as my part was successful the money with me was a secondary consideration. When Gould got the Western Union I knew no further progress in telegraphy was possible, and I went into other lines."

Work for Western Union

In fact, however, lack of money forced Edison to resume his work for the Western Union Telegraph Company. He invented a carbon transmitter and sold it to the Western Union for 1000,000 dollars, paid in seventeen annual installments of 6,000 dollars. He made a similar agreement for the same sum for the patent of the electro-motograph.

He did not realize that these installments payments were not good business sense. These agreements are typical of Edison's early years as an inventor. He worked only upon inventions he could sell and sold them to get the money to meet the pay rolls of his different shops. Later the inventor hired keen business men to negioate deals.

Menlo Park - Electric Lamps

Thomas Edison set up laboratories and factories at Menlo Park, New Jersey, in 1876, and it was there that he invented the phonograph, patented in 1878. It was in Menlo Park that he began a series of experiments which produced his incandescent lamp.

Thomas Edison was dedicated to producing an electric lamp for indoor use. His first research was for a durable filament which would burn in a vacuum. A series of experiments with platinum wire and various refractory metals had unsatisfactory results. Many other substances were tried, even human hair. Edison concluded that carbon of some sort was the solution rather than a metal. Joseph Swan, an Englishman actually came to the same conclusion first.

In October, 1879, after fourteen months of hard work and the expenditure of forty thousand dollars, a carbonized cotton thread sealed in one of Edison's globes was tested and lasted forty hours. "If it will burn forty hours now," said Edison, "I know I can make it burn a hundred." And so he did. A better filament was needed. Edison found it in carbonized strips of bamboo.

Edison Dynamo

Edison developed his own type of dynamo, the largest ever made up to that time. Along with the Edison incandescent lamps, it was one of the wonders of the Paris Electrical Exposition of 1881.

Installation in Europe and America of plants for electrical service soon followed. Edison's first great central station, supplying power for three thousand lamps, was erected at Holborn Viaduct, London, in 1882, and in September of that year the Pearl Street Station in New York City, the first central station in America, was put into operation.

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