Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

Other Early Stations--The Meter
WE have now seen the Edison lighting system given a complete, convincing
demonstration in Paris, London, and New York; and have noted steps taken for its
introduction elsewhere on both sides of the Atlantic. The Paris plant, like that at the
Crystal Palace, was a temporary exhibit. The London plant was less temporary, but not
permanent, supplying before it was torn out no fewer than three thousand lamps in hotels,
churches, stores, and dwellings in the vicinity of Holborn Viaduct. There Messrs.
Johnson and Hammer put into practice many of the ideas now standard in the art, and
secured much useful data for the work in New York, of which the story has just been
As a matter of fact the first Edison commercial station to be operated in this country was
that at Appleton, Wisconsin, but its only serious claim to notice is that it was the initial
one of the system driven by water-power. It went into service August 15, 1882, about
three weeks before the Pearl Street station. It consisted of one small dynamo of a capacity
of two hundred and eighty lights of 10 c.p. each, and was housed in an unpretentious
wooden shed. The dynamo-electric machine, though small, was robust, for under all the
varying speeds of water- power, and the vicissitudes of the plant to which it, belonged, it
continued in active use until 1899-- seventeen years.
Edison was from the first deeply impressed with the possibilities of water-power, and, as
this incident shows, was prompt to seize such a very early opportunity. But his attention
was in reality concentrated closely on the supply of great centres of population, a task
which he then felt might well occupy his lifetime; and except in regard to furnishing
isolated plants he did not pursue further the development of hydro-electric stations. That
was left to others, and to the application of the alternating current, which has enabled
engineers to harness remote powers, and, within thoroughly economical limits, transmit
thousands of horse-power as much as two hundred miles at pressures of 80,000 and
100,000 volts. Owing to his insistence on low pressure, direct current for use in densely
populated districts, as the only safe and truly universal, profitable way of delivering
electrical energy to the consumers, Edison has been frequently spoken of as an opponent
of the alternating current. This does him an injustice. At the time a measure was before
the Virginia legislature, in 1890, to limit the permissible pressures of current so as to
render it safe, he said: "You want to allow high pressure wherever the conditions are such
that by no possible accident could that pressure get into the houses of the consumers; you
want to give them all the latitude you can."
In explaining this he added: "Suppose you want to take the falls down at Richmond, and
want to put up a water-power? Why, if we erect a station at the falls, it is a great economy
to get it up to the city. By digging a cheap trench and putting in an insulated cable, and
connecting such station with the central part of Richmond, having the end of the cable
come up into the station from the earth and there connected with motors, the power of the
falls would be transmitted to these motors. If now the motors were made to run dynamos
conveying low-pressure currents to the public, there is no possible way whereby this
high-pressure current could get to the public." In other words, Edison made the sharp