M992.145.1.2 | The Electric light is a success, take my word for it

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Letter from Thomas A. Edison
The Electric light is a success, take my word for it
1880, 19th century
22.5 x 14 cm
Don de Mrs. Kate Reed
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Letter (11)
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Keys to History

With the invention of the light bulb, interiors are brightly lit. As Thomas Edison writes in 1880, "The Electric Light is a success, take my word for it." The preceding October, Edison had used carbonized sewing cotton mounted on an electrode in a vacuum to produce a light source that becomes white hot without overheating. Bamboo fibre gives the tipped bulb a thousand-hour life. Electricity slowly begins to rival gas lighting in urban homes by the 1890s, becoming more popular by 1910-20.

Electrical lighting tends to pull household members away from the centre of the room. As material culture expert Thomas J. Schlereth points out, "Central heating and electrical lighting tended to disperse . . . family circles. Centrifugal privacy replaced centripetal intimacy." The centre table with its kerosene lamp is no longer the focus of family gatherings.

Susan Lasdun, Victorians at Home (New York: Viking Press, 1981), p. 111.

Michel Lessard, Objets anciens du Québec: La vie domestique (Montreal: Éditions de l'homme, 1994), p. 117.

Thomas J. Schlereth, Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915 (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), p. 114.

Light Bulb Museum [on line]

Source : Crowding the Parlour [Web tour], by Jane Cook, McGill University (see Links)

  • What

    This is a letter with a note from Thomas Edison mentioning electric lights. The tipped bulb has a single-loop carbon filament and a sealed metal base.

  • Where

    The note was written in Menlo Park, NJ.

  • When

    The note is dated March 13, 1880. Edison (1847-1931) worked in Menlo Park between 1876 and 1887. This bulb was made around 1890.

  • Who

    Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor known for his work with electricity and communications. His many inventions include the light bulb and the phonograph.