Celebrating Thomas Edison in the Collection on the Anniversary of His Lighting New York City

Thomas Edison, circa 1889 (Gilder Lehrman Institute, GLC07616.04)On September 4, 1882, the first electrical lighting in New York City signaled a new era of urban illumination.

Pearl Street Station, the first central power station in the world, was operated by Thomas Alva Edison and the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York, which would later become Consolidated Edison, and it was from here the switch was flipped.

The New York Times building was among the first in the area to be lit. A New York Times reporter described the event in the “Miscellaneous News” section of the paper, explaining that a light bulb was “a glass globe about four inches long, and the shape of a dropping tear . . . in which is inclosed the carbon horseshoe that gives the light.”

Shamokin, Pennsylvania, was one of the first completely electrified towns, thanks to this agreement from 1883. (Gilder Lehrman Institute, GLC05971)In 1883, Shamokin, Pennsylvania, became one of the first fully electrified towns. In a document preserved in the Gilder Lehrman Collection from May 4, 1883, Edison agrees to furnish the town with a central station plant and a system of pole lines for $19,209. The document details payment arrangements with additional notes dated October 15 and October 25, 1883. It is signed by Edison and members of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company.