1930: The Wizard of Menlo Park Helps Launch a Fleet of Electric Trains for a Major Railroad

September 3, 1930

Nearly eight decades after first coming into existence, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (DL&W) Railroad – covering about 400 miles (643.7 kilometers) between Hoboken, New Jersey, and Buffalo, New York – introduced electric suburban trains along its line. These trains were inaugurated for use within New Jersey between Hoboken and the communities of Gladstone, Montclair, and Dover; this particular segment of the DL&W would lay claim over the next couple of decades as the most heavily traveled commuter branch line in the United States.

The person at the controls of that first electrified multi-unit train to leave Hoboken Terminal was none other than world-renowned inventor and New Jersey resident Thomas Alva Edison (“Engineer Edison,” proclaimed the headline in one newspaper account reporting on his tour of duty at the throttle). The famously nicknamed “Wizard of Menlo Park,” who did more than anyone else to harness electricity for widespread and everyday use, helped oversee the DL&W project.

The trains were kept moving along on the tracks by overhead lines. Each locomotive had a cage-like device on its roof that touched an overhead line, and that in turn channeled electricity to a large motor. The same fleet of electrified trains that Edison helped deploy continued to serve local commuters through the mid-1980s.

Edison died at the age of 84 just a little over a year after he helped launch those trains. A plaque commemorating the joint accomplishment of Edison and DL&W can be seen today in Hoboken Terminal, which is now operated by New Jersey Transit.

Additional information on the debut of electric trains serving the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad is available at https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/steamtown/shs4a.htm

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