No tale in all the chronicles of American invention would seem to be better known than the story of Thomas Edison’s incandescent electric light. The electric light, after all, quickly became the epitome of the bright idea, and its creator was for more than fifty years the living symbol of America’s inventive genius. But in truth it is only in recent years that we have begun to piece together the complete story of history’s most famous invention.
The plant began operation only twenty-six days after Thomas Edison's first steam plant began operating on Pearl Street in New York (NL 46). On September 30, 1882, an Edison "K" type dynamo produced electricity from a water-powered turbine to light three buildings (two paper mills and the H.J. Rogers home), at rate of about 12 1/2 kilowatts. It is the first Edison hydroelectric central station to serve a system of private and commercial customers in North America. The story of its development provides keen insight into the nation's first experiences with the electric light.
Edison's simple and unprecedented instrument allowed for the first time the permanent recording and reproduction of sound, especially the human voice. On December 6, 1877, Edison put tinfoil around the cylinder, turned the handle of the shaft and, shouting into one of the diaphragms, recorded a verse of Mary Had a Little Lamb "almost perfectly." From this machine evolved the phonographs and record industries of the world.
This dynamo, connected directly to a high-speed steam engine, was one of six that produced direct current at Thomas A. Edison's electric power station at 257 Pearl Street in New York City. The Pearl Street Station was the prototype for central station power generation. Edison set out in 1878 to provide an electrical distribution system to bring lighting into the home: His first filament lamp lit on October 21, 1879. With the help of Frances Upton and C.L. Clarke, Edison built his engine-driven dynamo for the 1881 Paris Electrical Exposition.