First village plant switched on 134 years ago — Edison Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin

The Edison Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers the turning on of the first central electric system for a village on January 19, 1883 in Roselle, New Jersey.

From the Engineering News and American Contract Journal of April 21, 1883:



The seventeenth bulletin of the Edison Electric Light Company records the successful installation of the first “village plant” in the United States at Roselle, N. J.

This town, the creation of the Central Railroad of New Jersey, is situated a short distance from Elizabeth.

It has been the aim of those having its welfare in hand to leave naught undone to contribute to the comfort and conveniences of its inhabitants.

The total length of wire is 8 3/4 miles. It is conducted on poles 30 feet high and 130 feet apart.

The mains were completed January 15 and found on the first test to be electrically perfect.

The steam is furnished by a 150 horse-power duplex safety boiler, enclosed in brickwork.

The machinery room has a capacity of four K dynamos, each with an independent engine. Three K dynamos are installed, two of which are now running every night.

Thirty-five houses have been wired for over 500 lights. There are also 150 electric street lamps.

The depot is also lighted by clusters of Edison lamps.

The current was turned on January 19, since which time, says the report, the lights have been furnished satisfactorily and without hitch. There are other towns along the line of the Jersey Central road where “village plants” for electric lighting should be introduced.


The National Electric Light Association Bulletin of September 1922 provided more insights into the first central station and more background of electricity:


The First “Village Plant”

On January 19, 1883 the current was turned on in the first village central station at Roselle, New Jersey.

The central station was located at the corner of First Avenue and Locust Streets and occupied a central position in the district lighted, which radiated one-half mile each way from the station.

The total length of the wire was 8.76 miles. The conductors were suspended on poles 30 feet in height and 130 feet apart, the positive wires being on the upper arms and the negative wires on the lower.

The building was a frame structure of tasteful design, measuring 39 feet 7 inches by 34 feet 10 inches.

The steam was furnished by a 150 horse power duplex safety boiler, which was entirely enclosed by brickwork.

Three K dynamos were installed, two running every night.

There were 35 houses connected with the system, wired for over 500 lights.

Shortly thereafter village central stations were opened in Sunbury and Shamokin, Pennsylvania.

History of Development

In reviewing the history of electrical development Samuel Insull has said:

“In 1879 the only electric light service that anything was known about in this country was the work of Mr. Brush, of Cleveland; Elihu Thompson, Professor Houston and a few others who were engaged in series arc-light business.

“Mr. Edison’s work on incandescent lighting was just being talked about. I think it was in December, 1878, that it was first discussed in the public press. In 1879, Mr. Edison made his first exhibition at Menlo Park of his paper carbon lamp, and it was not until the summer of 1880 that any of those experimental lamps found their way outside of the laboratory. It was my privilege in August, 1880, to see one of Mr. Edison’s first lamps lighted up to a dull red in the basement of a building in Queen Victoria Street, London, the energy for lighting the lamp being supplied by about forty cells of Grove battery.

“Between 1882 and 1886 the alternating system supplemented the direct system and came into general use, and sometime during that same period the three-wire system of Edison was put into use. By this great improvement in wiring the amount of copper necessary for the direct-current system was cut down so that we got along with about 40 per cent of the copper originally required.

“The introduction of the alternating system and the Edison three-wire system gave a tremendous impetus to the electric lighting business. It was but a few years before the electric lighting business assumed proportions rivaling those of the telephone industry, and we began to see springing up all over the United States establishments for the sale of apparatus.

“In 1888 Nikola Tesla took out his polyphase-current patents. In 1889 the Paris Exhibition was held. In this exhibition the progress of electric-lighting was shown definitely for the first time. The same year marked the introduction of the “watt.” It was defined by the International Electrical Congress. From this the term “kilowatt” later developed. In 1890 came the first electric power transmission, a system being laid out in a Colorado mining district.”

Mr. Insull has estimated that by 1885 there was not much more than $5,000,000 invested in the central station business.

“Of course when I speak of the central station business,” he said, “I speak of a multiple-arc system from which energy can be taken for all kinds of work. I do not consider the series arc-lighting plants, which were general through the country at that time, as serious attempts at central station service. In 1885, the records show that there were about 400 lighting companies, but most of those were series arc-lighting companies, and the probability is that at that time there were less than 50 or 60 companies, and all of them small, giving electric service; that is, distributing electrical energy 24 hours a day and 365 days in the year.”

It was about 1889 that stations were started generally throughout the world. It had taken about three decades to establish the commercial value of gas. The commercial possibilities of electric power and electric lighting were established within one decade.


The Edison Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows with an image of his electric light system, the generator, the armature, and the electric metre, circa 1880.

Edison Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin