On Oct. 15, 1878, a group of investors raised $50,000 to support experiments Thomas A. Edison - was conducting with incandescent lamps. Later that month, the company was incorporated as the Edison Electric Light Co., with a $300,000 initial capitalization. Edison, then 31, got half the stock.
The longed-for breakthrough came a year later when Edison successfully used a carbonized sewing thread for a filament, and this first bulb managed to burn for 40 hours. When Edison's success was announced in the newspapers on Dec. 21, 1879, gas company stocks fell sharply while Edison Electric soared, eventually hitting $3,500 a share.
The first full-scale introduction of an electrical system came in London. But the showpiece was the unveiling of the Pearl Street Station in New York City in 1882 which eventually serve 946 customers and 14,311 incandescent lamps.
"The giant dynamos were started up at three in the afternoon and, according to Mr. Edison, they will go forever unless stopped by an earthquake," the New York Times reported, unable to foresee the blackouts ahead.
In 1892, the Edison General Electric Co. merged with Thomson-Houston Co., another equipment manufacturer, which had developed alternating current, to form the General Electric Co.
The first big opportunity for the company came a year later when an ambitious GE salesman bid to electrify a South Carolina textile mill with a series of ceiling-mounted, 65-horsepower motors.
GE, which up to then had built no AC motor with a capacity greater than 10 horsepower, advised on DC motors, but finally worked on filling the request. By April 1894, thanks to the calculations of mathematical wizard Charles Steinmetz, who was working for GE, the company delivered 85-horsepower motors. And they would still be in service 30 years later.
The steam turbine for power generation came next, an invention of Charles Curtis, who first suggested the principle of a bladed wheel that would be hit by high-pressure steam to spin at a high speed.
The first customer was a Chicago utility, Commonwealth Edison, which bought two 5,000 kilowatt turbines in 1903 for its Fisk Street Station. By 1909, these were replaced by turbines twice as powerful and the station's success spurred much of GE's early growth.
By 1910, GE's turbine-generator business sold nearly a million kilowatts of capacity. Today, individual turbines can deliver that much power.
In 1900, the company meanwhile had started the first scientific research laboratory that was not part of a university. Located in Schenectedy, where it is still centered (with branches in London, Zurich and Singapore), the labs have produced a continous stream of inventions and breakthroughs.
In 1913, the first high-vacuum, hotcathode X-ray tube was developed by William D. Coolidge, which became the basis for nearly all X-ray tubes to the present day. This in turn gave GE a substantial base to enter the field of medical technology.
In 1928, a GE subsidiary, the Carboloy Co., developed what was then billed as "the hardest metal produced by man" - cemented tungsten carbide. It was used to improve the strength of cutting tools far beyond what the best steels were capable of, and it gave big boost to the U.S. machine tool industry.
In 1955, GE scientists produced the first man-made diamonds, which eventually were applied to metal cutting and grinding uses. And in 1960, it followed with another superabrasive material, Borazon.
In the 1960s, the company had pioneered in the use of silicones, elastic-like materials commonly known as "silly putty," but which have a wide variety of application as sealants, adhesives, rubbers and resins.
The breakthrough in engineered plastics came almost by accident in 1963. A researcher was mixing a batch of polymers using diphenyl carbonate when his stirrer motor stopped dead and the resultant mass, when cooled, turned out to be tough enough to hammer nails.
GE has since developed a whole family of super-hard plastics used for shatter-proof eyeglass, replacement for metal parts on automobiles and numerous other applications.
Using its basic turbine technology combined with gasoline power, GE over the years also has been a major factor in providing the power-generation systems for locomotives, steamships and jet airliners.
In aerospace, the company worked in the late 1940s to develop the world's first multistage liquid-propellant rocket - a technology later applied to the Atlas and Titan rockets.GE also has provided the re-entry system for ballastic missiles, brought the first satellite back from orbit in 1960, and provided support systems for the government's Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs.
Finally, in the field of telecommunications, GE also has been responsible for some major contributions. The first long-distance wireless broadcast, on Christmas Eve of 1906, was aided by the development of the high-frequency alternator.
GE engineer Charles Hoxie, working on a high-speed recorder for transatlantic radio signals in 1919, meanwhile devised a way of recording complex sound on motion picture film which led way for the "talkies." And the Hoxie method continues to be the basic technology for talking movies today.
And during World War II, GE's work on the electron tube was crucial in providing radar technology to the successful U.S. war effort.