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About the SeriesElectric Nation

 Electric Nation

Program Two: 'Electric Nation'

How America Got Wired

The delivery of electricity to homes, businesses and factories has perhaps transformed society more than any other engineering achievement. "Electric Nation" documents how electricity became a part of every American's life.

In the early 1880s, Thomas Edison moved from Menlo Park, New Jersey, to Pearl Street in Manhattan to build the world's first central electrical generating station. Its goal: to light a few blocks in the city, including the offices of J. P. Morgan and The New York Times. Edison succeeded, launching the electric-lighting era; power plants spread to cities worldwide.

Edison's virtually unknown prodigy, Samuel Insull, created the modern electric utility in Chicago. Insull consolidated small electric power plants into Commonwealth Edison, then led the industry to make electricity affordable to almost everyone within reach of its lines.

Despite Insull's model, most private utilities did not wire rural areas, claiming it too costly. Yet electricity had come to be viewed as a necessity. If private companies refused to bring electricity to rural Americans, the government would. The Tennessee Valley Authority was born. Its leaders, engineer Arthur Morgan and lawyer David Lilienthal, helped complete the job started by Edison a half century earlier in wiring America.

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Great Projects: The Building of America


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