When Night Turned Into Day: The First Underground Wire to Light a Home in the World, Part of Thomas Edison’s Groundbreaking Test in Menlo Park, and Used to Electrify Edison’s Own Home

One of the most important artifacts relating to electricity and light ever to reach the market

Acquired by us directly from the descendant of Edison’s chief laboratory machinist John Kruesi, and never before offered for sale; This invention led to the lighting of New York City, the United States, and then globe

The Smithsonian displays an artifact with the same provenance: A lamp used to illuminate Menlo Park...

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When Night Turned Into Day: The First Underground Wire to Light a Home in the World, Part of Thomas Edison’s Groundbreaking Test in Menlo Park, and Used to Electrify Edison’s Own Home

One of the most important artifacts relating to electricity and light ever to reach the market

Acquired by us directly from the descendant of Edison’s chief laboratory machinist John Kruesi, and never before offered for sale; This invention led to the lighting of New York City, the United States, and then globe

The Smithsonian displays an artifact with the same provenance: A lamp used to illuminate Menlo Park on December 31,1879, when Edison introduced his invention to the world. It is currently on in the exhibition Lighting A Revolution at the National Museum of American History.

Thomas Edison propelled the world out of the gaslight era and into the electric age. With dreams of lighting up entire cites, Edison lined up financial backing, assembled a group of brilliant scientists and technicians, and applied his genius to the challenge of creating an effective and affordable electric lamp. With unflagging determination, he and his team tried out thousands of possibilities, convinced that every failure brought them one step closer to success. They succeeded where so many others had failed. On January 27, 1880, just a month after exhibiting his invention, Edison received the historic patent embodying the principles of his incandescent lamp that paved the way for the universal domestic use of electric light.

This changed the way everyone lived. Work could start early or continue past dusk. The evenings could be times of activity and recreation. The day no longer had to be confined to daylight hours or time huddled around the heat and light of the fire. It remains among the greatest advancements of the modern age. But a light bulb without a system of electricity delivery would remain nothing more than a lab experiment.

John Kruesi had been apprenticed as a locksmith in Switzerland, and migrated to the United States where he settled in Newark, New Jersey. There he met Thomas Edison, who was impressed with the young Swiss immigrant and took a liking to him, employing him in his workshop starting in 1872. He became Edison’s head machinist through his Newark and Menlo Park periods, responsible for translating Edison’s numerous rough sketches into working devices. Since constructing and testing models was central to Edison’s method of inventing, Kruesi’s skill in doing this was critical to Edison’s success as an inventor. Historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel summed up Kruesi’s remarkable ability:

“If the devices that emerged [from Kruesi’s workshop] didn’t work, it was because they were bad ideas, not because they were badly made. And when the ideas were good, as in the case of the phonograph, the product of Kruesi’s shop would prove it.” Kruesi was involved in many of Edison’s key inventions, including the quadruplex telegraph, the carbon microphone, phonograph, incandescent light bulb and system of electric lighting. Kruesi was particularly proud of building the first phonograph.

Inventing a light bulb did not bring it into the home. You had to have a way to deliver the electricity needed to light the bulb. So Edison set to work creating a system to light the world. W.S. Andrews, one of Edison’s first employees, describes the system in great detail. “In 1880, Mr. Edison laid out a system of underground distribution.. from his laboratory in Menlo Park, to supply 1000 lamps, placed on wooden lamp-posts along the streets and roads of the village of Menlo Park and also in the dwellings. As no electric circuits had ever before been placed underground, there was absolutely no experience to guide in the proper laying and insulation of the conductors…” Conductors “were composed of No. 10 BWG copper wire… the system was a simple two conductor, multiple circuit… After a few weeks of experiments, the best of the insulating compounds was selected for use. This compound was composed of refined Trinidad asphaltum, mixed with oxidized linseed oil to give it the right consistency, and a little paraffine and beeswax were added to make the material smoother.”

The wires insulated and laid, Edison set to test the first ever underground power system. Andrews continues, “It was on Election Day 1880 that Mr. Howell informed Edison that this line was completed, the lamps in place and everything read for starting up. His answer was characteristic, ‘If Garfield is elected, light up that circuit. If not do not light it….’ When the result seemed certain, Mr. Edison gave orders to light up the circuit so the row of bamboo filaments started glowing on the night of Garfield’s election, in November 1880…”

A piece of the first ever wire to electrically light a home in the world, used that very night in 1880 to electrify Edison’s own home (and across from Kruesi’s), and one of only a handful such artifacts known to have survived. The dual conductor copper wires are still partially covered by Edison’s asphalum. The artifact was dug up by F.A. Wardlaw, long-time aide, and was later Secretary of the Edison Pioneers and curator of the historical collection of the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies. Wardlaw has inscribed a note in sending it to Kruesi’s son Paul, who grew up with Edison at Menlo Park. The note is attached to the wire. Autograph note signed, F.A. Wardlaw: “This is a piece of the original underground conductor that fed Edison’s home, exactly like that used for yours and Batchelors, at the historic demonstration of the Edison electric light at Menlo fark, N.J. in 1880. It was the first underground cable ever used for this purpose. Taken from the earth by myself Sept. 29, 1933, after having been buried on the east side of Christie Street, just opposite your old home, for fifty-three years.”

Included is a copy of the original letter from Wardlaw, which reads, “Perhaps you would like a piece of the original conductor used by Edison at Menlo Park at the now historic demonstra­tion of the Edison System of Incandescent Electric Lighting in 1880, so am sending you one. I dug it out of the bank on the east side of Christie St, Menlo Park, directly opposite your old home, last Friday. It was the first underground cable ever used for electric lighting and appears pretty good yet after being buried for 53 years.”

The Smithsonian has an artifact with the same F.A. Wardlaw provenance: A lamp used to illuminate Menlo Park on December 31,1879 when he introduced his invention to the world. It is currently on display in the exhibition Lighting A Revolution at the National Museum of American History. Most of the Wardlaw provenance material that appears to have survived is in fact in the Smithsonian.

This artifact and note were acquired by us from the direct descendant of John Kruesi and have never before been offered for sale.

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