Benjamin Franklin’s electricity experiments – including his famous kite experiment in 1752 – showed just how little we knew about electricity in the era of the American revolution and the first industrial revolution.
Scientific experiment to product
One of the greatest pioneers in electricity was Thomas Edison, who saw electricity as his “field of fields“ to “reorganize the life of the world“. When Edison…snatched up the spark of Prometheus in his little pear-shaped glass bulb,” German historian Emil Ludwig observed, “it meant that fire had been discovered for the second time, that mankind had been delivered again from the curse of night.” Yet Edison’s electric light was even better than fire—it was brighter, more consistent, and safer than the flame of candles or lamps.
Edison’s electric lighting systems were basic by today’s standards but bold at the time—they not only threatened the existing gas lighting industry but radically challenged the status quo by introducing people to an entirely new type of energy. In a few short years, Edison transformed electricity from a science experiment into an exciting, safe, and coveted luxury.
In 1882, with J.P. Morgan funding his efforts, Edison launched the businesses that would later be known as General Electric. In September of that year, he opened the United States’ first central power plant in lower Manhattan—the Pearl Street Station.