The Age of Edison

I read this good book The Age of Edison by Ernest Freeberg . It’s so amazing how electricity and the light bulb changed the world. The light bulb had effects on the insurance industry, architects, sign makers and retail. Just image your world without electric light’s and electricity. Below is an excerpt from the book.

The Age of EdisonAge of Edison

In a similar fashion, Hoover suggested that the impact of Edison’s lights far surpassed anything that one man could have envisioned in 1879. The great inventor had aimed to liberate people from their gas and oil lamps by providing a better and cheaper light. But far beyond that, the humble bulb that left Edison’s laboratory and made its way in the world had been transformed by the creativity of others to serve “an infinite variety of unexpected uses”;

It enables us to postpone our spectacles for a few years longer; it has made reading in bed infinitely more comfortable; by merely pushing a button we have introduced the element of surprise in dealing with burglars; the goblins that lived in dark corners and under the bed have now been driven to the outdoors; evil deeds which inhabit the dark have been driven back into the farthest retreats of the night; it enables the doctor to peer into the recesses of our insides; it substitutes for the hot water bottle in aches and pains; it enables our towns and cities to clothe themselves in gaiety by night, no matter how sad their appearance may be by day. And by all its multitude uses it has lengthened the hours of our active lives, decreased our fears, replaced the dark with good cheer, increased our safety, decreased our toil, and enabled us to read the type in the telephone book. It has become the friend of man and child.”

In this, Hoover recognized what most other speakers had missed that day: that what Edison and his rival inventors had done fifty years earlier was to release upon the world a technology with enormous potential, one with far too many possibilities for anyone person to anticipate or create. Edison conceded as much. “When I laid the foundation of the electrical industry,” he told a reporter during the festivities, “I did not dream that it would grow to its present proportions. Its development has been a source of amazement to me.”!

Hoover’s playful list of the light’s various applications captured some of these “amazing” and unexpected consequences of Edison’s invention, though his tally was far from complete. To it we should add the light’s role in expanding human knowledge of the deep sea and the microscopic world, of caves and polar darkness. The light inspired creative adaptations by architects, urban planners, lighting designers, sign makers, window dressers, and theater artists. And we should remember the untold number of inventions and social conventions that others developed in order to fully realize the light’s potential: the engineering standards, insurance guidelines, consumer protections, and utility regulations. Hoover noted that light made Americans more productive, less afraid and vulnerable, but might have also mentioned its role in creating other distinctive markers of modern life-our frenetic pace and long hours, our assumption that any barrier imposed by nature can be overturned or ignored in the name of economic efficiency, the exhilarating and disorienting effects of electric mass marketing and retail, and the experience of living, working, and playing in spaces carefully engineered by illuminators to induce a proper mood.

Though Hoover captured just a part of the electric light’s enormous economic, social, and cultural impact, he deserves credit for acknowledging that Edison, for all his greatness, was only the foremost among many, some known and others long forgotten, who had played some part in inventing the light bulb and thus in creating this essential part of modern culture. Edison recognized this more than anyone, and offered the fullest tribute that evening to all those who had joined him in building a world of electric light. In a voice quavering with emotion, the world’s greatest inventor told his global audience, “I would be embarrassed at the honors that are being heaped on me were it not for the fact that in honoring me you are also honoring that vast army of thinkers and workers of the past, and those who are carrying on; without whom my own work would have gone for nothing. If I have spurred men to greater effort and if our work has widened the horizon of man’s understanding even a little and given a measure of happiness to the world, I am content.”

After giving his brief remarks, Edison collapsed and had to be taken to Ford’s house for several days of bed rest. “I am tired of all the glory,” he complained. “I want to get back to work.”

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