History and Momentum
History and Momentum
It was New Year’s Eve 1879, and the small community of Menlo Park, New Jersey, was overrun. Day after day the invaders had appeared, their numbers mounting as the new decade approached. When the New York Herald dispatched a man into the New Jersey countryside to report on the scene, he described a spectacle somewhere between a county fair and an inauguration: “They come from near and far, the towns for miles around sending them in vehicles of all kinds—farmers, mechanics, laborers, boys, girls, men and women—and the trains depositing their loads of bankers, brokers, capitalists, sightseers, hungry agents looking for business.” At first it had been hundreds, but by the last evening of the year, some 3,000 had gathered. They were here to see the future. Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the phonograph, master of the telephone and telegraph, was said to have a new marvel, and it was his most amazing yet. If the newspapers could be believed, the Wizard of Menlo Park was lighting up the night with a magic lamp that ran on electricity. The news had first broken ten days earlier. A reporter from the Herald had spoken with Edison, who showed off his latest success: a light bulb that would glow for dozens of hours without burning out. On December 21, the Herald trumpeted the achievement, taking an entire page plus an extra column to describe the bulb (“Complete Details of the Perfected Carbon Lamp”) as well as Edison’s trial-and-error search for it (“Fifteen Months of Toil”) and the electrical system that would power it (“Story of His Tireless Experiments with Lamps, Burners and Generators”). Other newspapers soon picked up the story, and Edison, never one to pass up good publicity, announced he would open his laboratory after Christmas. Members of the public could come see the marvel for themselves. And what a marvel it was. Perhaps in this age, when city folk must travel miles into the country to not see an electric light, it’s hard to appreciate the wonder of that night.
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