Thomas Edison’s Lesson For Achieving Greatness

My to-do list has stuff like clean the bathroom, fix the closet door, and file the tax return. Edison’s 5 page to-do list from January 1888 clearly demonstrates aspirations to greater things, including:

  • “New slow speed cheap dynamo”
  • “Refining copper electrically”
  • “Ink for blind”
  • “Artificial ivory”
  • “Marine telegraphy”
  • “Sorting coal from slate machine”
  • “Regenerative kerosene burner”

[via Lists of Note]

Wiring America

A number of years ago, I saw a show on TV all about the work of electric linemen. Unfortunately, I forgot to write down the name of the show and for some time I’ve been trying to track it down without success. The other day, I caught part of Modern Marvels: Wiring America on The History Channel and thought it might be the one I’d been looking for. After watching the whole thing now however, I know it’s not. Still, I think it does a pretty good job of introducing a general audience to the technology of electric transmission. ip address It even mentions my favorite character in the history of electric utilities, Samuel Insull.

Wiring America is as much about telecom as electric transmission, though I found that interesting as well. Coverage of electricity really begins about the 22 minute mark and Insull makes his appearance at 28 minutes.

If anyone has any idea what that show about lineman may have been, please let me know.

Electric Utility Marketing

These days it’s not unusual to see the local utility advertising on TV or to receive a solicitation in the mail from a competing retail supplier of electricity. But do you know…

What was the first utility marketing campaign?

Reddy Kilowatt? Nope.

In the late 1880s, Thomas Edison, with his direct–current central station power system, was losing market share to Westinghouse and his alternating–current system. In order to convince people that AC utility service was a menace to public safety, Edison—who was otherwise a staunch opponent of capital punishment—took an active role in promoting the use of the AC–based electric chair for executing criminals. In 1888 Edison provided funding, laboratory research space, and technical assistance to Harold Brown for his experimental AC electrocution of dogs and horses. Then in July of 1889, Edison testified in a New York court that AC was better suited for executing prisoners because it produced a much more intense shock than did DC. Edison also financed construction of the first electric chair and provided assistance to Harold Brown for the surreptitious procurement of a Westinghouse AC dynamo. The first person to be executed by electricity was one William Kemmler. He died in the electric chair of New York’s Auburn penitentiary on August 6, 1890.

Just one battle in the War of the Currents.

For further information on this fascinating story, I highly recommend the book, Executioner’s Current by Richard Moran. Another more detailed, though I found less entertaining account is Edison & the Electric Chair by Mark Essig. One I haven’t had the opportunity to read is Blood and Volts by Th. Metzger.