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University of Missouri

Edison Dynamo

Shining a light on one of Mizzou’s oldest relics.

Edison dynamo

A dynamo given to the University of Missouri by inventor Thomas Edison in 1883 now is on display in Engineering Building West. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Given to the University of Missouri by the inventor Thomas Edison, the Edison dynamo predates Engineering Building West, which houses it, by 40 years, as well as Jesse Hall and most of Red Campus. The assemblage of copper wire is responsible for the first electricity demonstration west of the Mississippi River on Jan. 10, 1883, and, less directly, led to the electrical fire that destroyed Academic Hall in 1892.

First in the Country
Edison’s gift of the dynamo helped spark the creation of the Department of Electrical Engineering at Mizzou, the first public electrical engineering department in the country.

Let There Be Light
In the first ray of electric light seen on this half of the North American continent, a warm yellow gleam burst from a light fixed atop the Academic Hall dome and cut through the cold January air. It could be seen as far as the old Boone County courthouse.

Direct Current
Today we think of AC/DC as a rock band. But the direct current (DC) versus alternating current (AC) “current war” once consumed the major electrical minds of the country. Edison was a staunch advocate of DC, in which the electrical current flows in one direction. The current spilling off of this copper wire was DC. However, AC quickly won out because it was easier to transport over long distances.

In 1992, on the 100th anniversary of the formation of General Electric, which was formed by a merger involving the Edison Electric Company, the corporate giant paid to restore the Edison dynamo and ensconce it in the display glass that now houses it in the foyer of Engineering Building West. A smaller model, also a gift from Edison, lives on the third floor.