Edison's 1st test of electric railway, May 13, 1880

-May 13, 2017

Thomas Edison ran his first test of the electric railway in Menlo Park, NJ, on May 13, 1880.

On a track about a third of a mile in length, made up of light weight rails spiked to ties laid on the ground, the locomotive pulled three cars: a flat freight-car, an open awning-car, and a box-car called the "Pullman," with which Edison illustrated a system of electromagnetic braking.

Edison reportedly moved away from this rail in 1881 after local officials and businessmen persuaded him to build a longer road at Menlo Park, equipped with more powerful locomotives that could demonstrate the feasibility of putting electric railroads in other regions.

A year later, work was completed and two locomotives, one for freight and the other for passenger service, for the electric railway.

Railroads played an important part in Edison’s life. He and his family moved to Michigan from Ohio when he was a boy after the railroad bypassed his hometown in 1854 and business declined.

Once in Michigan, Edison sold candy and newspapers on trains. He also studied qualitative analysis and conducted chemical experiments on the train until an accident prohibited further work.

Edison obtained the exclusive right to sell newspapers on the railroad. He found four assistants and started up his own newspaper, the Grand Trunk Herald, which he sold with his other papers. This was Edison’s first entrepreneurial venture and his first step toward becoming a businessman.

Later, Edison became a telegraph operator after he saved a toddler from being struck by a runaway train. The boy’s father was a station agent and, in gratitude, trained Edison as a telegraph operator. Some of Edison's earliest inventions were related to telegraphy, including a stock ticker.

Edison’s love of trains stayed with him until his death. Just months before he passed away, Lackawanna Railroad inaugurated suburban DC-based electric train service from Hoboken to Montclair, Dover, and Gladstone in New Jersey. Edison was at the throttle of the first electric multiple-unit train to depart Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken in September 1930, driving the train the first mile through Hoboken yard on its way to South Orange.

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For more moments in tech history, see this blog. EDN strives to be historically accurate with these postings. Should you see an error, please notify us.

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on March 23, 2012, and edited on May 13, 2017.

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