Brockton Power Plant
The picture above is the first central power plant in the south shore of Massachusetts. The building was purchased on October 4, 1883, by the Edison Illuminating Company of Brockton from the Brockton Gas Company. Thomas Edison came to Brockton in 1883 to illuminate the downtown area from a central power station. The reason he picked Brockton is because in the late 1800's Brockton was a thriving shoe manufacturing city and was rapidly growing. In fact a lot of the shoes in the country at the time came out of Brockton.
Thomas Edison had some problems when he first proposed his central power idea to the Brockton residents. The residents thought that electric lighting would be unsafe, and the wires hanging on poles above the street would be a public hazard. Edison quickly proved to the city residents that electric streetlights would be safer than the gaslights that were up at the time, and the threat of fire would be greatly reduced. The other problem with the proposal is the electric wires hanging over the town's streets. This problem was brought up by Daniel W. Field, a local environmentalist and city activist, who said that the wires hanging above the streets would be a kind of sight pollution and the copper wires would cut right through the cities prized Elm trees.
To solve the problem of the exposed wires Edison and his workers developed the first underground wire system. The cable consisted of three wires, and it ran from the School St. power station two feet underground into downtown about a quarter of a mile away. This was the world's first underground electric cable system. It set an example and was used as a model by developers all around the world well into the 20th century.
After eight months the time finally came to turn the lights on and illuminate the downtown area. When Edison turned on the lights most of the 150 600hour bulbs were not functioning properly. A new electrical effect was discovered when workers put the cable through an existing cast-iron water pipe. It made a "compacting effect" with the electricity, almost like water backing up in a garden hose. The problem was quickly fixed and the power was turned on with great success.
The plant showed above used coal-fired boilers to generate power and was not very safe at the time. While this city project was being constructed boilers were blowing up in area manufacturing buildings killing over 60 people. A story that went around at the time was about a supervisor of the plant that was hired because of his nerves of steel around the burners. Two weeks before the scheduled illumination the supervisor was scared, not of the burners, but of an electrical storm. He ran off and was never seen in Brockton again. The reason why he was scared of the storm is that the plant would often get hit by lightning, and on one occasion lighting the floor on fire. The wires running from the building were stapled on with metal tacks and made for a great electrical conductor. To combat this problem a local tack manufacturer named George W. Cross, invented an insulated staple to prevent this problem from happening again.
This new underground electrical system made the wealthy Thomas Edison even wealthier and brought to light a new way to illuminate a city.
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Beals, Gerald. Brockton Historical Society. N. Pearl St. Brockton, MA. 02401
Lerned, John. Brockton Historical Society. N. Pearl St. Brockton, MA. 02401
Parker, Steve. Science Discoveries. Thomas Edison and Electricity. 1995. Chelsea House Distributers, New York. Pp 17-21.