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The Papers of Thomas A. Edison

Research to Development at Menlo Park, January 1879-March 1881

Thomas A. Edison edited by Paul B. Israel, Louis Carlat, David Hochfelder, and Keith A. Nier

Publication Year: 2004

The fifth volume of The Papers of Thomas A. Edison covers Edison's invention and development of the first commercial incandescent electric light and power system. In the process he turned his famed Menlo Park laboratory into the first true research and development facility. This also enabled him to develop a new telephone for the British market in the midst of his herculean efforts on electric lighting. In the face of daunting technical challenges and skepticism from leading scientists and engineers, Edison and his team of experimenters and machinists found the solution to the decades-old problem of creating a practical incandescent lamp. By focusing on the characteristics of the entire system Edison reconceptualized the requirements of a successful lamp design. While rivals worked primarily on lamps, Edison developed other parts of a complete system as well. This approach was most notable in his revolutionary work on generator technology, one of the highlights of this volume. Successful exhibitions of the system in December 1879 drew crowds to Menlo Park to witness the softly glowing lamps. These spectacles gratified his financial backers but Edison realized the importance of following experimental demonstrations with the hard work of commercial development. He needed to make each component work effectively in daily use and to improve the designs so that they were easy to use and inexpensive to manufacture. To create a daytime market for electricity he also developed electric motors for a variety of uses, including electric railways, for which he built a small demonstration line at Menlo Park. To accomplish all this Edison greatly enlarged his staff to as many as sixty experimenters, machinists, carpenters, and office workers. He began manufacturing lamps at a factory in Menlo Park. At the end of 1880, Edison was ready to move his system into commercial production and made plans to produce other components in New York. He also invited New York officials to a demonstration in order to win their approval for running underground lines in lower Manhattan where he planned to put his first commercial central station. In March 1881, he moved to the Edison Electric Light Company's headquarters on Fifth Avenue and began the hard work of introducing the new electric light and power technology.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: The Papers of Thomas A. Edison


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pp. 1-11


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pp. xi-xii

Calendar of Documents

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pp. xiii-xxiii

List of Editorial Headnotes

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pp. xxiv-25

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pp. xxv-xxviii

This volume chronicles one of the most important periods in Thomas A. Edison’s career. Between January 1879 and March 1881, Edison invented a complete system of electric light and power. Although the carbon-filament incandescent lamp was the most visible element of the system, Edison and his assistants also developed a new generator, a meter, underground conductors, and fuses and lamp sockets. ...

Chronology of Thomas A. Edison, January 1879–March 1881

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pp. xxix-xxxvii

Editorial Policy and User’s Guide

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pp. xxxviii-xlii

Editorial Symbols

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pp. xliii-44

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xliv-l

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1. January–March 1879

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pp. 3-157

At the beginning of the New Year, Edison focused his efforts largely on the project to which he had committed his laboratory in the latter half of 1878—incandescent electric lighting. On the second day of January his assistants began to make a working dynamo for the first time. ...

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2. April–June 1879

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pp. 158-269

By the beginning of April Edison believed that he had succeeded at what was called subdividing the light, or operating multiple electric lamps simultaneously and independently. His laboratory demonstration in late March convinced him that one mechanical horsepower could sustain six lamps, each equal to a conventional gas jet. ...

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3. July–September 1879

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pp. 270-396

Encouraged by the progress of his electric light experiments during the spring, Edison told several investors in early July that “Everything looks bright” and that he was making plans for a large demonstration of his system at Menlo Park.1 Using a dynamometer designed and built at the laboratory, he and his assistants measured the efficiency of his new dynamo. ...

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4. October–December 1879

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pp. 397-544

October marked the start of a period of extraordinary activity at the Menlo Park lab, even by Edison’s unconventional standards. He confronted serious legal, administrative, and technical obstacles to the commercial use of his telephone; undertook a wholly different line of research for his electric lamp; ...

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5. January–March 1880

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pp. 545-691

Having suspended virtually all work for nearly a week for the exhibition of his lighting system, Edison again closed his laboratory to the general public on 2 January. He resumed his usual routine of attending to business in the morning, reviewing the work of his assistants after midday, then working in the laboratory until the early morning, ...

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6. April–June 1880

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pp. 692-763

Edison acknowledged in mid-April that a fundamental change was taking place in the nature of his work at Menlo Park. Reporters visiting the laboratory noted that he had taken most of his electric lamps out of service. ...

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7. July–September 1880

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pp. 764-874

During the summer, Edison pushed ahead simultaneously with preparations both for a large-scale practical demonstration of his lighting system at Menlo Park and for the start of commercial lamp manufacture. Miles of underground electrical conductors for hundreds of outdoor street lights were in place by mid-July, after more than two months of work. ...

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8. October–December 1880

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pp. 875-965

During the fall and early winter Edison found himself in the unfamiliar position of having to depend upon events and circumstances beyond his immediate control. The small-scale Menlo Park central station and distribution system he had hoped to demonstrate in the summer was still not ready. ...

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9. January–March 1881

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pp. 966-1018

In the early months of 1881 the work of Edison and his staff at Menlo Park was directed almost wholly toward manufacturing lamps and developing his system of electric light and power for commercial use in New York. He appointed Francis Upton to take charge of the lamp factory at the first of the year; William Hammer, another valued assistant, spent an increasing amount of time there. ...

Appendix 1. Edison’s Autobiographical Notes

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pp. 1019-1034

Appendix 2. Menlo Park Employees, 1879–1880

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pp. 1035-1048

Appendix 3. Edison Lamps (1879–1881) at the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village

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pp. 1049-1056

Appendix 4. Edison’s U.S. Patents, January 1879–March 1881

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pp. 1057-1062


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pp. 1063-1074


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pp. 1075-1076


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pp. 1077-1098

E-ISBN-13: 9781421412856
E-ISBN-10: 1421412853
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801831041
Print-ISBN-10: 0801831040

Page Count: 1152
Illustrations: 15 b&w photos, 383 line drawings
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: The Papers of Thomas A. Edison
Published in cooperation with Rutgers University's Thomas A. Edison Papers project, the fifteen volumes of The Papers of Thomas A. Edison are intended to allow readers from all walks of life to rediscover Edison, his career, his work habits, his creative strategies, and even the processes of invention and innovation he experienced. The transcriptions, explanatory annotations, chapter headnotes, and detailed indexes are designed as much to satisfy the most demanding scholarly inquiries as to offer new opportunities for lifelong learning. Six of the anticipated fifteen volumes have been published. Volume 7 is scheduled for publication in Fall 2015.