Simply Electric

Edison’s World Significant Tubes

The American inventor Thomas Edison is claimed to have said that to invent ‘you need a good imagination and a pile of junk’. It would have been easy for excavators working in William Street, Brisbane, to see these tubes as junk and throw them away. But these tubes are of World Significance as some of the earliest electric lighting installations in the world – certainly in the Southern Hemisphere.

Called Edison Tubes, they were installed in 1884 to power the new electric lighting system in Queensland’s Parliament House. These two samples show the original 1884 two wire tube and the second more efficient three wired tube installed in 1892.

That they both spent over a hundred years buried under a Brisbane street, they are in incredible condition thanks to their insulation, a mixture of Trinidad pitch, linseed oil, paraffin, and beeswax, that also formed a preservative.

Originally, these tubes were 6.1 metres in length. This measurement (twenty feet in Imperial measurement) was determined as this was the maximum length a horse drawn tray could carry and turn in the New York streets.

Having been manufactured in New York, and then spending a century underground, samples of the retrieved Edison Tubes were sent to museums around the globe, including the Thomas Edison Historical Park in New Jersey close to where they were first manufactured.

After all that time, what could have been seen as junk, has been rescued to show us the power of an inventive imagination.