GE’s Homecoming

Edisons First Patent

Edisons First Patent

Last month, General Electric, one of the largest and most respected companies in America, announced it was moving its Global Headquarters to Boston. GE’s draw to Boston is a natural one, and in some ways a homecoming. It is Boston where Thomas Edison, the man credited for founding GE, opened his first business, filed his first patent, and convinced local investors to finance his earliest inventions.

While living in Boston in 1869, Edison used his skills as a salesman to gain financial backing from local investors for two important early inventions, including the first one he ever patented (over 1,000 more would follow over the course of his life). The first was Edison’s voice recorder, which could be used by legislative bodies. The recorder allowed each legislator to move a switch to “Yes” or “No” transmitting a signal to a central recorder. The central recorder then compiled a list or how each member voted. The recorder was never used however, as the United States Congress ironically deemed it too slow in recording votes, and feared that it opened the door to filibusters and vote lobbying. Edison’s second Boston-backed invention was a stock printer, which became his second patent. The printer, according to the patent file, allowed for the production of “simple, reliable, and inexpensive printing” of telegrams, without an attendant required to be present.

During the same year, Edison opened his first business. Using his own stock printer, he ran a gold and stock quotation service. The service relayed gold prices and stock market prices from New York City to subscribers in Boston. The success of the business allowed him to quit his job at the Boston headquarters of Western Union and dedicate his full energies to his inventions. Later that year, in pursuit of a new invention, Edison left Boston for New York.

The Edison connection is not alone in making GE’s move a homecoming. In 1883, a group of investors in Lynn, Massachusetts founded the Thomson-Houston Electric Company. The company produced commercial arc and incandescent lighting systems based on their own patented designs. As the company’s market share grew it began acquiring competitors, including Brush Electric Company of Cleveland, as well as seven other electric companies. Through mergers and innovations the company became a dominate force in the electricity business. The growth, despite many positives made it harder for Thomson-Houston and the Edison General Electric Company to produce and develop while both held firm to their own patents. In 1892, the two companies merged allowing their patents and technologies to be used together. The new company was called General Electric.

Beginning in the summer of 2016, General Electric will move to Boston, the place where it all began. For Massachusetts, as noted by The Boston Globe, the move cements the “region’s reputation as a magnet for innovation.” For GE, Massachusetts is poised to provide the same magic and invention that Edison found in his time here. Nearly 150 years since Thomas Edison opened his first business, and 124 years since Edison General Electric merged with Lynn-based Thomson-Houston, their fully grown international conglomerate has chosen a familiar home.



This year’s Frederick Douglass US History Essay Contest focuses on Technological Innovations Born in Massachusetts. If you are a Massachusetts High School student stories like this can win you up $5,000 for yourself and $1,000 for your school! You could use that money to file a few patents of your own . . .

Go to to find out more and be sure to submit before March 7th!


About the author

Jordan is a Fellow at the Pioneer Institute, an alumnus of Penn State University, and a graduate student at Harvard University.

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