Tuesday, September 19, 1916
Thomas Edison visited Mount Vernon on September 19, 1916. Edison’s visit coincided with a debate among the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association about installing electricity in the Mansion; some members of the Association thought electricity would ruin the authenticity of Washington’s home and all they were trying to accomplish with its preservation, while others considered it too dangerous to continue using kerosene lighting in the home. As described by the organization’s 1916 annual report, “The proposed installation of electricity at Mount Vernon came as a shock to some of the Vice Regents, seeming to be most incongruous in this antique home where everything in the way of colonial customs is preserved as far as possible.”
After coming to a consensus to install electricity, the Ladies would only allow the most prestigious electricians to be in charge of the project, so they hired the Edison Storage Battery Company to advise on the right system and process to bring electricity into the Mansion. Edison offered to build a system powered by generator-fed storage batteries with a “guarantee of absolute safety.”
Taking his advice, the Ladies Association installed a direct current electrical system, meaning the energy for the electricity was supplied through batteries stored on-site rather than the alternating current system, which would have required them to connect to the Alexandria power grid. However, by 1935, they decided the alternating current system was more practical.
During Edison’s trip to the estate in 1916, he did inspect the Mansion in order to make recommendations to the Ladies, but his visit was also one of personal interest. He was photographed at the Tomb, and after hearing about previous tree plantings on the estate, he asked if he could plant a tree as well. The staff quickly located an elm for Edison to plant near the Tomb.
Records from the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association note that the elm tree grew too large for its location and died in 1971.