Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oct 15: Electric Light Bulb – Headed for Idaho

On October 15, 1878, Thomas Edison incorporated the Edison Electric Light Company to provide funding for several development projects, including efforts that produced the first practical electric light bulb within about 15 months. He and his backers planned to recoup their investment through licensing fees and direct sales. (Photo: Edison light bulb, National Museum of American History.)

Along with his light bulb work, Edison developed systems to deliver electricity from a central source to illuminate streets, buildings, and residences. These systems and related components were sold or licensed by an array of companies Edison either founded himself or help found. Later these firms would be consolidated into what came to be the General Electric Company.

Idaho benefitted from Edison’s developments within a few short years. In 1879-80, silver and lead discoveries in the Wood River drainage set off a rush into the area. Ketchum and several other towns sprang up.

Then, in 1881, Eastern investors financed the construction of a smelter near Ketchum. Their “Philadelphia Smelter” was designed with all the latest technology available at the time: including its own electric power plant and distribution system. Thus, the smelter featured the first electric light illumination in the state. Before the decade ended, Hailey – just down the valley from Ketchum – would become the first Idaho town to have an electrical lighting system.

Thomas Parke Hughes, Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930, The Johns Hopkins University Press (1993).

Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series No. 158 and 362.

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