Thomas Edison and GE

Thomas Edison is heralded for his genius as an inventor. Less known is his brilliance as a business pioneer. By aligning multiple businesses to bring innovation to the marketplace, he laid the path for today's GE. Learn more about the inspiration - and the perspiration - of the man who started it all. 



The year was 1876, Americas centennial, and for most Americans, a time for looking backward with pride. For others like Thomas Edison it was a time to look forward to the possibilities that lay ahead. The electrical exhibits at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia marked the beginning of a productive new era of harnessing our imagination.


1876 was also the year that Thomas Alva Edison opened a laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where he could explore the possibilities of the dynamo and other electrical devices that he had seen in the Exposition. Out of that laboratory was to come perhaps the greatest invention of the age - a successful incandescent electric lamp. 


By 1890, Edison established the Edison General Electric Company by bringing his various businesses together. 

During that period, a competitor emerged. The Thomson-Houston Company became a dominant electrical innovation company through a series of mergers led by Charles A. Coffin, a former shoe manufacturer from Lynn, Massachusetts. 

As both businesses expanded, it had become increasingly difficult for either company to produce complete electrical installations relying solely on their own patents and technologies. In 1892, the two companies combined. They called the new organization the General Electric Company. 

Several of Edison's early business offerings are still part of GE today, including lighting, transportation, industrial products, power transmission, and medical equipment. The first GE Appliances electric fans were produced at the Ft. Wayne electric works as early as the 1890s, while a full line of heating and cooking devices were developed in 1907. GE Aircraft Engines, the division's name only since 1987, actually began its story in 1917 when the U.S. government began its search for a company to develop the first airplane engine "booster" for the fledgling U.S. aviation industry. Thomas Edison's experiments with plastic filaments for light bulbs in 1893 led to the first GE Plastics department, created in 1930. 

GE's leaders through the years have built a diverse portfolio of leading businesses; a stream of powerful company-wide initiatives that drives growth and reduces cost; financial strength and Controllership that allow it to capitalize on opportunities through numerous cycles; and a set of common values that allows it to face any environment with confidence. 

The Schenectady Museum maintains an archive of historical GE information and photography in its Hall of History. For more information, contact: 

Hall of Electrical History 
15 Nott Terrace Heights 
Schenectady, New York 12308 
+1 518 382 7890