Kamis, 17 Februari 2011

"NEW YORK HISTORY IS NOT NECESSARILY AMERICAN HISTORY"

As a result of the extraordinary amount of time and work Edison put into promoting, and ultimately establishing America's first large scale commercial plant in New York City - and in spite of the fact that some of his cohorts at the New York Illuminating Company tended to ignore the concurrent Brockton achievement - the latter facility clearly represented a huge technological leap ahead of everything else in the field of central generation and distribution.... Developed at the very acme of Edison's fabulous career, it was patently obvious that the only plants that could record economically viable profits in small to medium sized cities throughout the world would be those employing its model 3-wire-feeder design....

Remarkably though, even as venture capitalists and contractors were tripping over each other applying for permits that mimicked small or medium sized Brockton-like central plants and networks, Edison always publicly verbalized his loyalty to the idea that his New York venture was his greatest achievement...." Perhaps this can best be understood via recognition of his strong personal identity with the great metropolis of New York City and its environs, as well as by considering his persistent dream of developing a critically important long range economic attachment to that city.

In any case, it was this fierce sense of "local patriotism" that led him to rank as only secondary the great significanceof the work he had pioneered earlier in Great Britain and Europe and later work in New England. But much more about this fascinating issue later...

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(Editor's addendum: As public awareness of the importance of Edison's work in Brockton dissolved ever further into the background, the Edison Illuminating Company of New York took five more years before it was able to evolve its Pearl Street plant into an authentic financial success.... Significantly, this did not occur until after that city began to remodel portions of use into 3-wire/feeder operations, which Edison would have constructed there in the first place "if timing hadn't favored building it elsewhere."

It is also interesting to note that the Edison Illuminating Company of New York did replace the last of its long outdated two-wire conductors until "19 years after the village operation in Brockton had introduced its revolutionary 3-wire facility. Of even greater significance, Manhattan didn't get around to providing electric motors until "almost two years after little Brockton had - albeit modestly - crossed that threshold...."

Finally, as the great writer, John Steinbeck, once pointed out: "New York history is not necessarily American history." The bottom line is that Edison's patents clearly indicate that the little city of Brockton has as much right as any city in the world to call itself "the world's pioneer electrical city....." The convincing evidence follows....


"Rare newspaper sketch of Edison at the time he was constructing his "Brockton system"


The Specific OVERARCHING features involved In EDISON'S CENTRALIZED ELECTRIC POWER FACILITY IN Brockton - WHICH WAS A highly complex and comprehensive SYSTEM of inventions That Revealed his genius AS MUCH AS anything else - are as follows:


...It was the first system to successfully integrate Edison's vastly improved feeder lines, junctions, mains, terminal voltage regulators, meters, potentiometers, breakdown switches, etc. into a standardized 3-wire form, allowing them be far more efficiently mass produced in his "world's first R and D factory...."

...With its safe "low strain" 110 (and later 220) voltage feeder system (Edison was convinced at this time that, in order to prevent fatal shocks to consumers, the amount of power going into homes and businesses had to remain below 250 Volts) combined with its new three-wire design (which had first been theorized by the great Hopkins in London and the great Seimens in Berlin) was now able to automatically maintain "absolute" external and internal control over the often unruly distribution of power to complex multi-use service areas. Accordingly, it virtually eradicated the challenging balancing act that had long been plaguing Edison's two-wire centralized plants and greatly accelerated the universalization of public electrification....

Contrary to Edison's earlier incorrect belief that feeder lines had to be relatively thick at the ends closest to the source of power and much thinner at the user's ends, Sprague's system-wide application of the first mathematically calculated, non-tapered,and "trim" feeder lines in Brockton added enormously to its practical viability.

Edison's associated methodology for monitoring and controlling voltage variability and calibrating feeder resistance ("spike and "drop") enabled the Brockton plant to deliver up to three times more power to ten times more commercial and residential area than had been the case with all existing 2-wire operations...

Along with the potential benefits that automatic transformers would soon began to offer, Sprague's contributions begat added savings in the cost of copper wire over and above those savings provided by 3-wire technology alone.

The associated system of conductors, junction boxes, insulating materials etc. and markedly enhanced savings in the labor costs associated with laying, maintaining, and repairing such components made it even more economical....

Frank Sprague's first authentic electric motors and his first tests and applications of his famed system of centrally powered electric street-car trolley traction were constructed in Brockton.... Sadly, the latter accomplishments - which were clandestinely brought to fruition in early 1884 and later patented under his own name - resulted in a serious rift between Edison and Sprague that was never entirely resolved.... Meanwhile, Sprague's earliest small motors were being adopted throughout scores of Brockton shoe factories and allied industries.

...Its pre-transformer-age low voltage (optional 110/220 ) three-wire design, which - regardless of its modest initial scope - was the first the first of its type on earth to feature aesthetically pleasing subterranean wiring. It also made Brockton the first place on earth to cross the boundaries of illumination while demonstrating the safe and economicaluse of lamp-socket source and non lamp-socket sources with stationary motors and ancillary appliances on a commercial parallel-feeder circuit....

Its improved metering technology was the first to finally overcome the pesky problem of "meter creep" while using the 220 volt option. Compared to the less accurate per bulb/per day billing that was still being used in parts of the New York City operation, this feature further added to its commercial viability....

Possessing a more efficacious system of distribution than non-feeder parallelwiring - which had been the key arrangement associated with the Edison's initial success in producing a practical incandescent bulb - the Brockton system was easily adapted to the in series form of wiring that under girded that city's long existing Pilson/Jenny arc-light system....

By integrating his remarkable multi-arc, or divided, incandescent light circuits, with this city's venerable undivided arc-light circuits, Edison made Brockton the first place on earth tosimultaneously power a parallel system with feeders and in series street lighting. Andunlike what had happened in New York City and elsewhere, the Brockton Edison Illuminating Company "promptly established a model for working harmoniously with the long established purveyors of AC/arc street lighting...."

Because the Brockton operation required such a relatively low capital outlay and low-interest startup costs for investors, it was the key factor in ultimately enticing hundreds of financiers to explore taking the leap into building small to medium sized centralized plants in not only small villages and their outlying rural areas, but in similar power webs in densely populated urban and industrial areas - throughout the world....


Summation


To its great historical credit, the main features of the Brockton Edison Illuminating Light And Power Company plant ended up being mimicked by the hundreds of small plants and the much larger plants that ultimately followed.

Shortly after correcting a pesky problem with the earliest Type H generation, its breakthroughs were retrofitted into most of Edison's existing (2-wire) demonstration plants and his numerous isolated (on-site) plants.

Before it was destroyed by fire, even the proud and highly touted New York plant was finally upgraded to include Brockton's features. Considering the fact that virtually all of the 3-wire plants that followed the design of Edison's Brockton model were showing greater net profit percentages - Edison did not flinch from regional braggadocio when, for most of the rest of his life, he doggedly clung to portraying his 2-wire New York operation as his greatest accomplishment.

This is entirely understandable when considering the strong demographic/economic advantages of identifying with that city, and the fact that that is where he built the first large scale "permanent" central electric plant in America. Accordingly, as his son Charles once suggested to this writer that [vs. his great accomplishment in Brockton], "...Yes, at times, he may have tended to romanticize his New York facility just a bit...."

In any case, the vast majority of technological historians still fail to clearly discern the limits to what Edison actually first accomplished in New York City - vs. what he did not accomplish there with his marvelous Pearl Street facility. And sadly, as the years rolled by - and centralized networks of power production and delivery became the norm in large urban-industrial areas - the extraordinary technological and commercial advantages wrought by Edison inthe little city of Brockton have faded into the background. Moreover, once long distance high voltage AC, transformers, and turbine generators, etc. came onto the scene, they were totally forgotten.

Most fortunately, however, a little known - but highly revealing - visit to Brockton (in 1958) by Edison's son Charles helped set the historical record straight. It was at that tome that he stated with crystal clarity that his father was well aware his ultimate vindication with commercial centralized electric power took place in the remote little village of Brockton. His recorded words were "It was here that father first perfectly modeled and applied it....." He could have added that it was also here where some of the world's most savvy scientists of the time - many of whom had long been severely critiquing his father's shortcomings with centralized commercial electricity in New York City and elsewhere - finally saw fit to unanimously express their unreserved congratulations to him for what he had finally accomplished and demonstrated hewre for the benefit of all of mankind....

In conclusion, one of the most unfortunate consequences of historian's leaving the Brockton component out of the overall saga of electrical history is that it has tended to render Edison's image and character itself more vulnerable to critics than should be the case.... For example, those who shrilly argue that Edison did not personally invent most of the things he gets credit for - and that great men such as Tesla and others "were more responsible for influencing the design of our modern world" than he - are given unwarranted fodder for such arguments....

In conclusion, regardless of great work of others, what Edison did when he first introduced a successful standardized, commercially centralized, underground, central power facility in Brockton, proving that electric light and power could be made practically available to all of mankind, was an insurmountable landmark in electrical history.

Addendum: It is said that "nothing beats an original." Accordingly, the unique features that were inherent in the Brockton central power system certainly meet that criteria..... It is simply undeniable that - when it was introduced in 1883 - there was no other single invention or collection of inventions on earth that demonstrated "a more comprehensive and successful blending of art, science, technology and commercial viability than this one. Even if considered by itself - this most significant accomplishment of Edison's career warrants granting him the incomparably august titles: "The father of commercially successful centralized electrical production and distribution and the most influential figure of the millennium...."

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