Thomas Edison was one of the most prolific inventors in history, with over 1,000 patents to his name. However, his famous Menlo Park laboratory where he developed revolutionary inventions like the lightbulb and phonograph was almost destroyed in a fire due to outdated electrical wiring.

The Dangers of Knob and Tube Wiring

In Edison's time during the late 1800s, homes and buildings were commonly wired using a system called knob and tube. This involved running electrical wires through porcelain knobs separated by tubes between ceiling or floor joists.

While knob and tube wiring was an improvement over bare wires at the time, it had many drawbacks:

Even when properly maintained, knob and tube wiring simply could not keep up with the increasing electrical demands of the 20th century.

Edison's Lab Wiring

As a leading inventor and entrepreneur, Thomas Edison always wanted his Menlo Park facility to showcase the latest innovations.

However, when it came to the electrical wiring, Edison cut corners by installing knob and tube wiring to save on costs. This would prove to be a nearly disastrous mistake.

In December 1914, a fire broke out and quickly consumed a stock room next to Edison's main laboratory building. The lab with years of irreplaceable prototypes and records was only saved when Edison's employees dynamically cut the electrical lines feeding the fire.

"The building was threatened by a fire which consumed a stock room nearby. As records, prototypes, and other irreplaceable historical objects were hurried out of the threatened building to safety, other members of the laboratory staff cut the electrical lines leading to the fire so that it would not spread further." - Excerpt from the book Edison: Inventing the Century by Neil Baldwin

Had the fire spread to the main lab before the electricity could be cut, untold years of Edison's work could have been lost forever.

Replacing Outdated Wiring

The near-disaster was a wakeup call for Edison. He immediately had engineers thoroughly inspect the lab's wiring and upgrade it to modern electrical standards.

Like Edison, homeowners today should be vigilant about identifying and replacing obsolete knob and tube wiring. Typical signs you may still have this outdated wiring:

Replacing knob and tube wiring usually involves hiring a qualified electrician to route new wires through your home's framing. All accessible wiring is removed and replaced with newer insulated copper wires encased in plastic or metal conduits. New grounded outlets are also installed for modern safety.

Properly upgrading old electrical wiring can prevent shocking accidents, electrical fires, and other hazards. Protect your home or business by having an expert inspect for obsolete knob and tube or cloth-insulated wiring. Like Edison learned, preventing electrical disasters is far cheaper than rebuilding afterwards!