In February 1881, Thomas Alva Edison left his workbench in Menlo Park, New Jersey behind for New York City with the challenge of not only bringing electric light to lower Manhattan, but also to prove that his light could be applied to practical use. This was a business strategem more than a scientific one, as explained by the new PBS American Experience documentary “Edison” that premieres next Tuesday, January 27th. We’ve got an exclusive clip from the episode, which shows the spots Edison while pushing the lightbulb “to its full realization.”
Here are three spots in New York City that Edison worked in and left his mark:
The townhouse at 14th Street and Fifth Avenue was wired with 200 lamps as a showroom and headquarters for the Edison Electric Light Company as it pushed to build the world’s first electrical power grid. It’s now The University Center of The New School, with its modern SOM designed building.
Two adjoining warehouses on Pearl Street were converted into Edison’s central power station, equipped with six steam engine dynamo sets weighing about 30 tons each and switchboards. There was also a bank of 1,000 lamps for testing the system. 80,000 feet of copper conductors were laid below the surrounding streets in the Financial District.
The Edison Machine Works partnership was formed in 1881 to manufacture dynamos and large electric motors for the Edison electric light system. Headquartered on Goerck Street, a street that no longer exists. It would have run through what is now the Baruch Houses and the ILGWU Cooperative Village around Delancey Street. Not mentioned in the clip but Tesla also worked here.
Stay tuned next Tuesday for the full documentary on PBS. See some of the last remaining Edison lampposts in New York City here.