Electricity and hearthstone: the Changing of america

Hearthstone's connection to one of the great minds in American History, Thomas Edison, is palpable.

Hearthstone may be the sole surviving example of wiring and electrical fixtures from the Edison Electric Company and the very dawn of the electric age that remain in their original locations.  The house features working original electroliers and other light fixtures, original switches (where the term "turn on the lights" comes from), and original wiring and cleats.  The house also feature exhibits of original Edison bulbs, generating equipment, and hands on displays that demonstrate hydroelectricity, generators, and circuits.

Apart from the technological inventions themselves, electricity and the electric light profoundly changed daily life in the late 19th century. Until that moment, human activity functioned between the cycles of light and dark, dawn and sunset. Prior to the incandescent light bulb night activity was conducted around whatever light could be derived from wood fires, candles, kerosene lamps and gas light. The incandescent light bulb was a soft flattering light that did not flicker or smell, was cheaper than gas, and unlike gas lighting did not require constant maintenance.  This too is part of Hearthstone tours.

Emerging cities like Appleton, Wisconsin, incorporated electricity into daily life as part of their ongoing development. Electrification was a social process and Americans adopted electrical technologies by weaving them into the fabric of their daily life. The expanding electric industry conveyed the concept of social and economic progress as validated industrial progress.  And in a very real sense, this was born at Hearthstone.

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A Visionary who EXEMPLIFIES the Gilded age

Henry J. Rogers was an entrepreneur and a capitalist who played a significant role in shaping the history of Appleton from 1873 to 1891. He was one of the managers and owners of the paper manufacturing mills that operated in Appleton at that time. The paper making industry, which was just beginning to expand exponentially and which still dominates the local economy today (in fact one of the mills still stands today as the Atlas Mill building), was attracted to Appleton by the availability of hydro-power which Rogers managed as a part owner of the Green Bay and Mississippi Canal Company.  Rogers tenaciously promoted the growth of industry in Appleton through the use of hydro-power and eventually electricity.  His decision to make Appleton the first United States city to use hydroelectric power to illuminate homes and businesses forever changed Appleton's path in history.

Electrical power, by changing night into day, revolutionized the way people lived.  So did the other technologies that Rogers had the vision to incorporate into Hearthstone.  These included the very things we take for granted; central heat, running hot and cold water, and bathrooms.

Henry J. Rogers' accomplishments and his impact on the growth of the City of Appleton contributes to the significance of Hearthstone. But the story does not end there.  Woven within the story of Hearthstone are the stories of the Van Nortwick family, of the Priest family, of the Pierce family, of the Fox River and its dams, mills, canals, and locks from Oshkosh to Green Bay.  They are stories of riches, of failures, and of fire.  All of these stories are deeply ingrained in Hearthstone.  

Learn about each of these from our docents as you tour Hearthstone.