Check Out Thomas Edison’s Charging Station – Video

5 months ago by Eric Loveday 33

Ever wonder what a “charging station” from the way old days (like 1900) looks like? Well, wonder no more. Seen here is Thomas Edison’s own charging station that was once located in his own garage.

No word on the output rating or charging protocol on this classic!

Back In The Old Days, This Was What You Used To Charge Your Electric Car

Back In The Old Days, This Was What You Used To Charge Your Electric Car

Video description:

“Edison was an early proponent of electric vehicles. The Charging Station at his garage was one of the earliest installations of its kind. The Edison household used it to charge the many electric vehicles Mr. Edison owned.”

“As EVs assume an increasing role in our mobile society, we need to study and celebrate the developments that have led to today’s progress. Please help the Friends conserve this important part of our technological history.”

The video itself comes from a private, guided tour of the Thomas Edison National Historic Park.

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33 responses to "Check Out Thomas Edison’s Charging Station – Video"

  1. SparkEV says:

    Was it free to charge? That might explain why it’s no longer used.

    1. AlphaEdge says:

      The batteries in many vehicles had to be removed completely to be charged, and they of course weighed a ton, being lead-acid.

      Edison tried to come up with a lighter alkaline battery, and did, but it was too late, as the electric car got “T-boned” 😉 by the Model T.

      1. Bill Howland says:

        Yeah but in many vehicles they just had a coaxial connector (inside pin, and outside pin) for the 2 wires. Wasn’t any harder than using a j1772 today, and for public charging purposes, it was probably more day-to-day more reliable than those ontheblink things and the ChargePoints with their impossible to unlock holsters; or non-working access card readers.

    2. Sublime says:

      I think it was his reluctance to add it to PlugShare that ultimately did it in.

      1. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ sven says:

        LOL!

        1. ClarksonCote says:

          There’s a joke here too about Chademo vs. CCS… Pick your favorite to hate on… 🙂

          1. Timmy says:

            Are you guys here all week?

            1. Same Bat(tery) Channel!
              Same Bat(tery) Time!

    3. DNAinaGoodWay says:

      It was not free. I’ve been there, and was told Edison would let his neighbors charge, for a fee.

  2. jimijonjack says:

    Edison was a Thief Who Stole Most of his Ideas From Nicoli Tesla & Patended them for himself He Was a True Fraud in every sense of the word

    1. AlphaEdge says:

      That’s absurd.

      For example, ripping up the contract he had with Westinghouse, when he should have renegotiated for a smaller amount. He gave away his invention of alternating current. His choice, his loss.

      Spending the rest of his lift, and other people’s money obsessing over wireless electricity, to be given away free, when it was totally unpractical and not realistic.

      1. AlphaEdge says:

        > “Spending the rest of his lift”

        Life!

      2. MTN Ranger says:

        Yes, I saw that on the Tesla PBS documentary a few days ago. Tesla was extremely naive with business and money. The Westinghouse contract even if renegotiated to $.10 per unit of horsepower (don’t ask me that’s the unit they used on the show) could have made him the world’s richest man.

        1. Vik says:

          HP is about 746 watts or about .75 kW, which are both units of power. We charge for electricity by energy used which is power multiplied by time, so who knows they might have charged people by units of HP hours or HP days, back in the day.

      3. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Nikola Tesla inspired the stereotype of the “mad scientist”, and deservedly so.

        Tesla’s genius at electrical engineering was unparalleled, and in my opinion was even greater than Edison’s. But Tesla had a few “screws loose” too. Not only was he hopelessly naive and idealistic when it came to money and business, he believed he was receiving signals from outer space when performing early radio experiments!

  3. Anon says:

    Intimidating, awkward, monolithic piece of electrical equipment that could kill you if you didn’t know what to touch or when.

    Times HAVE changed, quite a lot.

  4. WadeTyhon says:

    Very cool piece of history. What a different future we might have had…

    I’ll bet that despite being 100 years old, it still works more reliably than Blink stations.

    1. Wade, they were neither built by Edison, nor by Tesla (Nicola)!
      So the earned the name “On The Blink Stations”

  5. Bill Howland says:

    Hummm, Too bad this unit seems to have been cannibalized over the years.. There seems to be a pilot relay’s coils toward the lower left of the panel that has the main assembly removed.

    No clue as to whether this took in AC or DC since it didn’t show whether their was a rectifier on the back, or was supposed to be hooked up to a small motor-generator set.

    The baker electric charger that supposedly was designed by Edison looked nothing like this (the one that Jay Leno has) – it had dropping resistors in it for direct ‘public charging’ connection to 125 volt downtown DC network areas.

  6. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    Obviously Edison’s charging station was far ahead of its time, as it put out DC power rather than AC! 😉

    1. Bill Howland says:

      Yup, I wonder what brand of AC Batteries they used for AC chargers?

      1. Bill Howland says:

        Must be AC-Delco because they still make Batteries.

  7. wavelet says:

    Nice piece Eric, thanks! (-:

  8. Timmy says:

    Do we know where the power was coming from? A huge bank of batteries behind the station? And how were they charged? This is all pre-AC, right?

  9. John C says:

    I saw a video on this stuff a while back, maybe around here?

    I think the grid distribution system was mostly AC by then, despite Edison’s preferences.

    I always wondered what they used for rectifiers (to make DC) pre-silicon and pre-diode vacuum tubes…

    Turns out they had these funky mercury filled tubes that would arc in one direction and not the other. To get the power rating needed, they would just make them bigger.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury-arc_valve

    Good times.

    1. guyinacar says:

      +1 to John C.

  10. guyinacar says:

    Nah, it’s post AC standardization by almost a full generation. But it’s during an era before “electrification,” when utility poles and residential distribution became ubiquitous, and AC became the grid we know today. So c. 1900 is during the time when great estates, hospitals, colleges, etc, had “power houses.” Industrialized AC distribution was just getting into high gear.

    http://www.edisontechcenter.org/AC-PowerHistory.html

    This particular carriage house is on one of those great estates of the era. You may not know the name Larz Anderson, but if you’ve ever seen any movie shot at Harvard, that bridge under which the Harvard crew team rows is the Anderson Memorial Bridge. It’s the obligatory helicopter shot, the arched bridge running between Harvard Business School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government, crossing the Charles River. The Weld/Andersons were big Boston philanthropists, so they had the money for a 1905 “Tesla” in their carriage house. They donated the bridge, among other things. Bill Weld is the scion of that family; he just ran for VP of the United States on the Libertarian ticket. So if you know the name, that may be why.

    As for the direct question: It’s almost certainly DC power to the car, with A/C coming from a power house somewhere nearby. The GE EVSE says “rectifier” right on it. So, yeah, DCFC a hundred years ago! 😉

    The Larz Anderson museum has an EV day on the lawn each year:

    http://larzanderson.org/2016-lawn-event-schedule/

    BTW, I’ve gotta think that Casa Loma in Toronto was similar, since the guy who built the estate (same era) actually owned the electric company in Ontario. I can’t find any record of that, though.

  11. guyinacar says:

    @Timmy, I just realized I maybe I didn’t answer the question the way you’d intended it. Sorry. The Larz Anderson (Weld) rig in Boston appears to be AC/DC rectifier. So AC transmission, and DC delivery to the car. The US Park Ranger talking about the Edison rig in New Jersey specifically says “DC.” It being in Thomas Edison’s own garage, it’s likely that it was DC transmission to DC delivery in New Jersey.

  12. Bill Howland says:

    Here’s a little homework assignment to think about: (Home electric services generally were (are) single-phase).

    From Wikipedia, which lists the PROBLEM:

    “…Single-phase mercury-arc rectifiers were rarely used because the current dropped and the arc could be extinguished when the AC voltage changed polarity….”

    What device on these home battery chargers kept the Mercury-Arc-Valve constantly firing so that you didn’t have to baby-sit the thing and constantly rock the tube to re-establish the arc?

  13. Alex Dow says:

    Bill

    Keep in mind that by suitable commutation, DC can be obtained from a typical rotating generator which basically produces AC from the implied rotating action.

  14. Bill Howland says:

    I said earlier:

    “…No clue as to whether this took in AC or DC since it didn’t show whether their was a rectifier on the back, or was supposed to be hooked up to a small motor-generator set….”

    I thought I just said that !

    You said:

    “…Keep in mind that by suitable commutation, DC can be obtained from a typical rotating generator which basically produces AC from the implied rotating action….”

    But I’m leaning toward the MG set since there seems to be a variable charge rate control which you could only easily do with an MG set by inserting a variable resistance into its self-excited shunt field, as well as too many meters – Unless of course you had Ac input to rectifier transformer current, then Voltage to car, and Current to Car – so then that would be 3 meters.

    An 80 volt at 20 amp charger would require being driven by a 3 Horsepower motor. Single-phase models (usually Repulsion-start, induction run) were available from several different manufacturers at this time, with a 110/220 volt nameplate at around 30/15 amps – so it could easily be run by luxury homes at the time which, if they didn’t have 220, would at least have 100 or 200 ampere 110 volt 2 wire services that these motorized units could easily run off of.

    1. Bill Howland says:

      Just as an interesting side note:

      Frank Lloyd Wright’s DARWIN MARTIN HOUSE (in the city of Buffalo – recently refurbished) had a relatively rare (for a residence) 2200 volt 3 phase electric service – the sole load was a 20 horsepower Motor Generator set in the Carriage House (basically, the Garage) – (the full load current of this motor would have been around 5 amperes), that provided DC for the house since the flicker of the 25 HZ incandescent lighting was considered ‘Old Hat’ for a fancy residence.

      In the refurbishment, the ‘historical preservationists’ totally ditched the motor-generator set (this is the real historical interest in my view), and junked it – but thought there must have been something special about the medium voltage to the house so they had a 2400 volt single phase service installed, switchgear, and also a 2400 volt transformer installed. What a joke. The house COULD have run on a modern 100 ampere service, which is the minimum required these days in the states for any house.

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