First electricity generation plant

Do you know the history of electricity? Do you know who Thomas Edison was? What was and how did the first power generation plant work? Knowing the history of electricity and its characters is to better understand how we arrived at the technologies we have in the world today and how we acquired the comfort that electricity provides us.

Thomas Edison was a great inventor and entrepreneur in the field of electricity, but he has a bad image for having used less than legal means to convince the population that in the 1880s the direct current he had been developing was the best option to distribute electricity between the houses.

Thomas Edison was responsible for putting the Pearl Street Electricity Generation Station into operation. Thomas Edison had an entrepreneurial mind and as soon as he patented his incandescent lamp he wanted to find a way to sell his lamps, but to sell lamps it was necessary that the energy reached the houses and shops.

In 1880 the only thing that really worked on electricity was light bulbs, so Thomas Edison started planning the first electric power generation station, so that he could sell both his lamps and the electricity he would generate.

Before setting up Pearl Street, Edison set up several experimental energy facilities. In 1880 Edson installed a small system on the Columbia steamship, as well as a small lighting system in his Menlo Park laboratory, despite these experiments, the construction of the Pearl Street plant presented some obstacles, starting with the way to generate enough electricity .


Edison wanted to use a dynamo that today is called a generator to be able to generate all electrical energy, the dynamo is a machine that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy, but no dynamo at that time was powerful enough for the demand that Thomas Edison was planning.

To solve this problem, Edison developed the dynamo “Jumbo”, a 27-ton machine that produced 100 kilowatts, enough to power 1,200 lights. The Jumbo dynamo was four times the size of any previously available dynamo.

Underground electrical network for energy distribution.

One challenge was solved, but now a slightly more complicated one, the distribution network.


Although electricity generation was a big problem, perhaps the biggest challenge was to build the elaborate network of underground wires and tubes needed to supply energy to customers, until then, it was not imagined to run cables on poles as is done today.

Thomas Edisson developed and patented electrical wires at this time that could be connected with each other and buried, an underground network. New York City politicians were initially skeptical and rejected Edison’s proposal to dig up the streets of Manhattan to install the necessary 30km of wiring.

Underground electrical network for energy distribution.

However, Edison was able to convince the mayor of the city otherwise, and the installation of the piping was undoubtedly the most expensive part of the entire project.

Electric meters and bill

There was still another obstacle, Edison was planning a way to monitor energy consumption so that customers could be charged for the exact amount of energy they used and since the beginning of the 19th century there were already special instruments to detect the flow of a current and indicate how much of it was flowing, but there was no instrument to record that flow over time.

In 1882 Thomas Edison managed to build a reliable meter. Edison developed an electrochemical meter, the device was able to corrode a metallic plate as the electric current passed through the plates and an acidic liquid, so each month the plate was measured and it was possible to estimate the amount of electrical energy that passed through the meter and thus, it was possible to estimate the amount of electricity consumed.

First electricity meter.

However, Edison did not send accounts to his customers until the entire system was running reliably, which took some more time.

The first electricity bill was sent to the brass and copper company Ansonia on January 18, 1883 and the value was ($ 50.44). There were other costs for customers, the lamps themselves cost a dollar (U $ 1.00) each.

Today it may seem like little, but for the year 1880, fifty dollars was a real fortune.

First ballot won by Edson Electric Light Comany.

Loss years

Edison’s sale of electricity in the Pearl Street electrical system was a loss in the early years. Its initial cost was very high, including the cost of the land in Manhattan, the power plant, all the wires, underground conduits and other equipment, meant that the value of the system was three hundred thousand dollars (U $ 300,000) to be built.

In addition to construction costs, there were ongoing operating expenses, such as the huge amount of coal that was needed to power the plant’s boilers to generate steam for the dynamos.

Electrical Data

Upon entering into operation in September 1882, the plant consisted of 6 direct current (DC) generators driven by steam engines, providing 30kW at 110V volts.

In the first year the plant served 59 installations in the lower part of Manhattan in an area of ​​3 km², in this first year the plant fed approximately 1,200 lamps.


In 1884, with a greater adhesion, the station served 508 customers and a total of 10,164 lamps.

Although Edison had revolutionized science and industry, the distribution of energy was limited to a distance of 800 meters, as the continuous current could not be easily elevated to high voltages and, thus, reduce electrical losses.

This was the limit of the Pearl Street generation plant, it operated until the beginning of 1890 when a fire paralyzed its activities. The station was rebuilt and continued to function until 1895 when it was finally decommissioned.

At that time, engineers designed power plants of much larger size to serve a larger area, making the Pearl Street station already obsolete. over long distances. The war of electric currents was already defining itself for a victory of alternating current, but that is another story. The video below the Mundo da Elétrica channel talks about how it was the first generating plant that worked.

We finished this article and if you have any questions or curiosity about the first electric power generating plant, leave it in the comments and we will respond!