Power of Engineering Heritage: Edison’s Brisbane legacy celebrated

Queensland’s rich engineering history was celebrated this week with a set of original Edison Tubes handed over to Queensland Parliament House on Thursday. The day was held in the spirit of the State Parliament’s 150-year celebrations, commemorated by the official presentation of the Edison Tubes shelf display by the Queensland arm of Engineers Australia’s Engineering Heritage group.
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Power of Engineering Heritage: Edison’s Brisbane legacy celebrated

Queensland’s rich engineering history was celebrated this week with a set of original Edison Tubes handed over to Queensland Parliament House on Thursday.

The day was held in the spirit of the State Parliament’s 150-year celebrations, commemorated by the official presentation of the Edison Tubes shelf display by the Queensland arm of Engineers Australia’s Engineering Heritage group.

The eponymously named Edison Tubes, patented by American inventor Thomas Edison back in 1881, were recovered in Brisbane back on 6 February earlier this year during the excavation stage of the Queen’s Wharf development.

The Tubes were re-discovered in 1992 by the South East Queensland Electricity Board, Queensland Museum, and the Queensland Electricity Commission however, only two lengths were recovered at the time.

Engineers Australia’s Engineering Heritage Committee member, Brian Becconsall, explains the State’s early origins of electricity.

“These Edison Tubes were the very first in commercial underground street mains ever made in the world,” Becconsall said. “They were made in the United States so (they came) all the way via London to Brisbane and enabled the power station to supply power remotely down to Parliament House.

“They were the very first commercial power mains and so we should preserve them for future generations to show what engineers made happen.”

After being carefully extracted by workers in a delicate removal process, some of the historical items now permanently reside in Queensland Parliament House while certain Edison Tube parts are relocated to multiple museums all around the world, including the Thomas Edison Exhibition back in the US.

Engineers Australia Queensland’s President, Ken Gillard, endorses the efforts of the Engineering Heritage group in the preservation of the Edison Tubes.

“The Engineering Heritage Group have done incredibly well in the way they’ve undertaken this Edison Tubes excavation and presentation. They have a great history themselves of looking after our valuable assets for years to come,” Gillard said.

You can see the Edison Tubes yourself this Saturday 11 August at the Queensland Parliament house for free, an experience that Engineering Heritage Committee member Stuart Wallace highly recommends.

“It’s an opportunity to see these Edison Tubes which historically, are very, very important. I would hope that some kids who are interested in the STEM subjects will have a look at these (Edison Tubes) and understand that STEM is not new. (STEM) is very old, but it’s also got a huge future,” Wallace said.

For more information about the Edison Tubes exhibit, head this way

We've got a whole photo album from the occasion - you can check it out right here.

Looking to gain more technical knowledge on the Edison Tubes? We've got a seminar coming up in November that is right up your alley: follow this link for more information.

 

So what exactly are ‘Edison Tubes’? Composed of iron, copper, paraffin and bees’ wax, Edison tubes are one of the earliest forms of electricity main used around the world, thirdly appearing in Brisbane following implementation in New York and London.

The relics discovered beneath the William Street site have been dated back to 1886, where they were used to power the Parliamentary Buildings and the Government Printing Office on George Street when first brought to Brisbane.

The electrical mains were first commissioned by the colonial Queensland Government in July 1886 following a demonstration of the then ‘new’ electric lighting in the Government Printing Office in 1883 by Edison Electric Co.

In order to bring power to buildings, a new Power Station (with two steam-driven Edison K 30kw Dynamos) and 410m of underground electric mains (Edison Tubes) were used to supply 200 electric lights in replacement of the gas lighting.

Of the 1000-plus patents he held, Thomas Edison’s electric light bulb headlines the list of inventions he famously created.