On This Day
1882 – The Pearl Street Station in New York City becomes the first power plant to supply electricity to paying customers.
Pearl Street Station was the first commercial central power plant in the US. It was located at 255-257 Pearl Street in Manhattan on a site measuring 50 by 100 feet (15 by 30 m), just south of Fulton Street and fired by coal. It began with six dynamos, and it started generating electricity on September 4, 1882, serving an initial load of 400 lamps at 82 customers. By 1884, Pearl Street Station was serving 508 customers with 10,164 lamps. The station was built by the Edison Illuminating Company, which was headed by Thomas Edison. The station was originally powered by custom-made Porter-Allen high-speed steam engines designed to provide 175 horsepower at 700 rpm, but these proved to be unreliable with their sensitive governors. They were removed and replaced with new engines from Armington & Sims that proved to be much more suitable for Edison’s dynamos.
Pearl Street Station was also the world’s first cogeneration plant. While the steam engines provided grid electricity, Edison made use of the thermal byproduct by distributing steam to local manufacturers, and warming nearby buildings on the same Manhattan block.
The station burned down in 1890, destroying all but one dynamo that is now kept in the Greenfield Village Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
In 1929 the Edison Company constructed three scale working models of the station. When a button was pushed, a motor turned the engines, generators, and other equipment in the model. A set of lamps connected to labelled buttons identified the various areas of the building. Cut-outs in the side of the model building allowed examination of the boilers on the first level, reciprocating steam engines and dynamos on the reinforced second level, and the control and test gear on the third and fourth levels. The models were constructed to a scale of one-half inch to the foot and were 62 inches long, 34 inches high and 13 inches wide. The models still exist and are on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History in Washington, at the Consolidated Edison Learning Center in Long Island City, New York and at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Up to 31 people worked on constructing the models which took about 6 months to complete.
Born On This Day
1848 – Lewis Howard Latimer, American inventor (d. 1928)
Lewis Howard Latimer (September 4, 1848 – December 11, 1928) was an American inventor and draftsman.
Lewis Howard Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on September 4, 1848, the youngest of four children of Rebecca Latimer (1823 – August 13, 1910) and George Latimer (July 4, 1818 – May 29, 1896). George Latimer had been the slave of James B. Gray of Virginia. George Latimer ran away to freedom in Boston, Massachusetts, in October 1842, along with his wife Rebecca, who had been the slave of another man. When Gray, the owner, appeared in Boston to take them back to Virginia, it became a noted case in the movement for abolition of slavery, gaining the involvement of such abolitionists as William Lloyd Garrison. Eventually funds were raised to pay Gray $400 for the freedom of George Latimer.
Lewis Latimer joined the U.S. Navy at the age of 15 on September 16, 1863, and served as a Landsman on the USS Massasoit. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy on July 3, 1865, he gained employment as an office boy with a patent law firm, Crosby Halstead and Gould, with a $3.00 per week salary. He learned how to use a set square, ruler and other tools. Later, after his boss recognized his talent for sketching patent drawings, Latimer was promoted to the position of head draftsman earning $20.00 a week by 1872.
He married Mary Wilson Lewis on November 15, 1873, in Fall River, Massachusetts. She was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the daughter of William and Louisa M. Lewis. The couple had two daughters, Emma Jeanette (June 12, 1883 – February 1978) and Louise Rebecca (April 19, 1890 – January 1963). Jeanette married Gerald Fitzherbert Norman, the first black person hired as a high school teacher in the New York City public school system, and had two children: Winifred Latimer Norman (October 7, 1914 – February 4, 2014), a social worker who served as the guardian of her grandfather’s legacy; and Gerald Latimer Norman (December 22, 1911 – August 26, 1990), who became an administrative law judge.
For 25 years, from 1903 until his death in 1928, Lewis Howard Latimer lived with his family in a home on Holly Avenue in what is now known as East Flushing section of Queens, New York. Lewis Howard Latimer died on December 11, 1928, at the age of 80. Some sixty years after his death, his home was moved from Holly Avenue to 137th Street in Flushing, Queens, which is about 1.4 miles northwest of its original location.
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