Most people don't realize this, but Edison was one of many innovators whose work and patents influenced the electric railways we know today. In fact, he built Menlo Park's first electric train system back in 1880, long before the Pennsylvania Railroad erected the catenary wires that power the trains that now stop at the nearby Metropark Station.
Edison's connection with railroads stretches back to his childhood, when he sold sundries on the Grand Trunk lines in his native Michigan. His interest in using electricity as a power source for trains, however, seems to have come more from his desire to make electric distribution economical. With the perfection of the light bulb came the need for electricity to power it, and by extension, a distribution system to bring electricity from a central generator to the customer.
Lighting would be used mostly at night, meaning that generation and distribution equipment would go mostly unused during the day.
The maiden run of the Edison railroad took place on May 13, 1880, when the Old Man himself took control of the locomotive. As Francis Jehl, one of Edison's assistants, later recalled in Menlo Park Reminiscences, many of the muckers gathered onto the bench-laden open-air passenger car to be part of the history-making trip.
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