Monday, October 21, 2013

INEZ | Oct. 21–Forward into Light / Edison Gets Bulb Right

Edison's new bulb.
October 21, 2013 – Today in 1879 Thomas Edison figured out how to make a better electric light bulb, initiating wonderment that produced, among other things, the battle cry for Votes for Women: "Forward into Light."

Since the 1820s, scientists knew that electricity could replace kerosene and gas lamps, but inventors only knew that platinum worked as a filament. Edison discovered that carbonized cotton thread worked better (tungsten turned out later to be even better).

He created the Edison Electric Illuminating Company in 1880 to enable him to bring electricity into people’s homes and businesses like gas and water, under the streets.

Once installation of cables was under way in Manhattan, he invented all the fixtures, sockets, fuses, and meters and then formed manufacturing companies to supply them. Edison's first commercial power plant was in lower Manhattan, at 257 Pearl Street. He needed a densely populated area full of both businesses and residential customers. The area's proximity to financial backers on Wall Street was also helpful. On the day, September 4, 1882, when the Pearl Street Station powered up for the first time, Edison was standing in the offices of investor J.P. Morgan. Edison gave the signal to his chief electrician, who closed the circuit and began the first commercial delivery of electric power. The New York Times, an early customer – reported the next day:
Edison’s central station, at No. 257 Pearl street, was yesterday one of the busiest places down town, and Mr. Edison was by far the busiest man in the station. The giant dynamos were started up at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and, according to Mr. Edison, they will go on forever unless stopped by an earthquake. [...] The electric lamps in THE TIMES Building were as thoroughly tested last evening as any light could be tested in a single evening, and tested by men who have battered their eyes sufficiently by years of night work to know the good and bad points of a lamp, and the decision was unanimously in favor of the Edison electric lamp as against gas.
The new light bulb played several parts in the life of Inez Milholland Boissevain:
  • Her father and grandfather were involved in electric utilities in Essex County, NY, where she spent her summers at Meadowmount. The light bulb must have been helpful for growing that business.
  • At Vassar, where Inez was in 1905-09, the campus was lit by Welsbach gaslights. These were changed over, slowly, to electric lights.
  • Electric lighting came to be associated with enlightenment – a second Renaissance (or as Edna St Vincent Millay's poem spelled it, "Renascence").
  • A theme song for the women's movement was "Forward into Light", which was set to music by Charles Ives.
  • The banner that Inez Milholland Boissevain carries on horseback in her iconic post-mortem poster reads "Forward into Light".
  • The light bulb replaced this Welsbach-mantled gas light.
  • Inez must have either sung the Ives song, or her sister Vida (who sang professionally for a while) did, at Vassar, and she picked up the theme as a feminist anthem.
The gas companies fought back against the view that gas lights were old-fashioned. They brought out new products and advertising designed to keep people using gas on the grounds of cost, tradition or simplicity.

Electric light did have a negative impact. It meant that people began to sleep less.

Before 1910, people slept an average of nine hours a night.

By the end of the 20th century, average sleep time was reduced to more like seven and a half hours. Under laboratory conditions, people deprived of electric light revert to sleeping nine hours a night.

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