Edison's first practical electrical lighting system was established in 1882, on Pearl Street in New York City. It was a central system, designed to provide light to everyone in the area using six "jumbo" generators. On September 4, 1882, the first day of operations at the Pearl Street station, the plant boasted ten 1/2 miles of mains and four 1/2 miles of feeder lines; by the end of the year it served an area of one square mile. By October, the station served over 1,200 lamps.
Edison's work on the light bulb is a good example of how inventors at the time built off of each other's accomplishments and added their own touches to make a product unique. The light bulb was the culmination of nearly a century's worth of work and research on electrical lighting systems, most of it done by other inventors. Edison's contribution to this field was to synthesize all of the past work done on electrical lighting and to solve the lingering problems that had prevented these other inventors from creating a practical system.
The key to Edison's success was his new filament and high-resistance lamp technology. The high-resistance lamps were the result of Edison's attention to Joseph Swan, who had pioneered a low-resistance lamp. Edison's lamp was more practical, because it used thinner, more economical conductors. His discovery of a carbon filament was based upon his work on the carbon telephone transmitter. Here, once again, is a case of Edison using experiments that were not initially successful to spark new inventions.
Edison's savvy business techniques after his invention are also key to understanding why his light bulb became such a phenomenon. His understanding of the marketplace led him to immediately plan for electrical lighting on a large scale; such quick thinking spared him the skepticism of the public about the practicality of an electrical lamp. He also invented his system in such a way as to give the customer choice between the gas lighting system and the electrical system, thereby avoiding the wrath of the gas lighting industry. Their protests would have certainly slowed down his underground wiring plans and possibly kept the Pearl Street station from becoming a reality.
Edison showed foresight not just in planning his Pearl Street station, but also in locating it near an important area in Lower Manhattan: the New York Stock exchange and banking districts. By servicing these areas first, Edison got the interest of the financial world in his electrical system. These interests were able to fund his Menlo Park facility further, allowing him to take on new experiments and expand the electrical lighting system.