Light for the World: Edison and the Power Industry

by Robert Silverberg

Van Nostrand
Hard cover book
Cover art


This book is not just another biography of Edison. Rather it is a simultaneous biography of the great inventor and his greatest invention — the system of power distribution that gave electric light to the world.

Starting with Sir William Gilbert, Court Physician to Queen Elizabeth I, Mr. Silverberg tells a fascinating story of our growing knowledge of electricity and what it does, through Volta, Ampère, Faraday, and Franklin, down to Edison and his contemporary competitors, Tesla and Westinghouse.

Everyone is familiar with Edison, the inventor, and his major contributions: the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, the motion picture. Few people realize that he was also an astute promotor who, in order to gain acceptance for his lamp, had to invent dynamos, cables, insulators, conductors, voltage regulators, junction boxes, meters, fuses, and fittings — everything, in fact, necessary to turn his invention from an incredible curiosity into a practical — inexpensive and safe — tool. Electric light for the world was his first objective; creation of an industry followed. Edison's inventions opened the way to subways, traffic lights, elevators, air conditioners, radio, television, and night baseball games. As some 30,000,000 inhabitants of northeastern United States discovered in November, 1965, when the power stops, the world stops.

Mr. Silverberg has salted the book liberally with extracts from contemporary accounts of the great, rough-hewn man; and from Edison's notebooks — revealing his pungent wit, his amazing grasp of the problems surrounding practical application of his inventions, including financing. Jay Gould, J. Pierpont Morgan, Vanderbilt, Twombly, Instill, and Villard were all his familiars. Morgan, in fact, went to see Edison in his Menlo Park laboratory when Edison was too busy to go see Morgan. There is also an appealing vignette — gas lit, the quiet broken only by the clopping of horses' hooves — of a world before electricity in all its subdivision became a fact of modern life.