Hearthstone: America's Electrical National Treasure

by Robin and Joan Rolfs

© 2020 Friends of Hearthstone, Inc
152 pages

ISBN  978-0-578-22948-5 (paperback)

Price $



From the book's Introduction --

The Henry J. and Cremora Rogers House is a historical gem found in Appleton, Wisconsin. The house is named Hearthstone because of its nine fireplaces. Built in 1882, it is the world’s first home to be lit by an Edison central hydroelectric station. One month after formation on August 18, 1882, the Appleton Edison Light Company, Ltd. began supplying electric power from a water powered dynamo to light electric lamps in the Rogers home, as well as two nearby paper mills, making it the first centrally located hydroelectric station using the Edison system. There were only three residences in the United States that were generally known to have had electric light when Hearthstone's system was completed on September 30, 1882: the William Henry Vanderbilt residence (completed January 1882) and the J. P. Morgan residence (completed summer of 1882) in New York and the John Doan residence (electricity installed in August 1882) in Chicago. Of these residences, only Hearthstone survives. The house was designed by William Waters, one of the Wisconsin’s most prominent turn-of-the-century architects. The house is 8,100 total square feet, including the basement. The original cost is estimated to have been between fifteen and eighteen thousand dollars. The story of Hearthstone, its past and present, involves a fascinating look at history and technology of the late 1800s. What sets this house apart from other Victorian homes is its unique electrical heritage, the architectural blend of outstanding craftsmanship with the latest technology of 1882, and the remarkable artifacts of electrical wiring and lighting that have survived and remain functional to this day. Though much of the history of the house, the families who have occupied the house, its historic significance to Appleton, and to hydroelectricity has been documented. The subject of electrical lighting, fixtures, wiring, and artifacts associated with the house deserve further documentation. As one of the first homes to have Edison residential electric incandescent lighting, it contains some of the earliest electric light fixtures specifically made for electric lighting, using Edison carbonized bamboo filament light bulbs. The manufacturing firm of Bergmann & Co., in which Edison was a partner, provided wall-mounted light fixtures, known as “brackets,” and ceiling-mounted fixtures, known as “electroliers.” The electrical light fixtures in the Rogers home are some of the oldest remaining examples today. 


About the Author --

We have been enthralled with Hearthstone since the 1970s when we moved to the Fox Cities. Joan was the department chairperson of interior design and developed the interior design program for Fox Valley Technical College in 1971. Joan was contacted by a member of the Friends of Hearthstone board and invited to become involved with the restoration of Hearthstone. They also invited Robin to become involved because of his background in electronics and electricity. Realizing the Edison connection and the historical importance of the house, we accepted Hearthstone’s invitation.. In 1990, we were given the task to develop the Hydro-Adventure Exhibit in the lower level with a committee of forward thinking Appleton citizens having outstanding talents. The interactive exhibit would be a teaching tool. The exhibit increased public awareness of the role of electricity in our daily lives and the transformation which occurred in our society as the result of Thomas A. Edison’s inventions and Henry Rogers’ vision for its implementation. As we researched the electroliers our conclusion was the ornamental bracket sconces were original Bergmann fixtures from 1882. But, what about the beautiful ornamental electroliers? We had worked with the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in Orange, NJ and one day during a visit met Chad Shapiro a collector and historian of early lighting. He shared his knowledge and provided us with Bergmann lighting catalogs from 1883-1884. Yes, thirty years later we were able to identify many of the electroliers as original Bergmann fixtures, to the house built by Henry Rogers.

We have written several articles for local and state newspapers and co-authored a book with Bessie and Floyd Seiter in 2001 titled, Phonograph Dolls that Talk and Sing. We are authors of the resource books: Phonograph Dolls and Toys; Nipper Collectibles, Nipper Collectibles Vol. II, and Nipper Collectibles Vol. III; Louis Lueder: Official Photographer to Mr. Thomas A. Edison; and Edison Little Folks Furniture 1926-2005. Articles written relating to the phonograph hobby appear in AntiqueWeek, Antique Phonograph News, For the Record, Fox Cities Magazine, The Sound Box, Yesteryear, The Antique Phonograph and for twenty-six years, were editors of the Badger Talking Machine, the Wisconsin Illinois Musical Antique Phonograph Society newsletter. Joan is regional liaison for the national, Antique Phonograph Society. We are also exhibit chairpersons for Hearthstone Historic House Museum. Joan has a BS degree in Business/Interior Design. Robin has his BS and an MS degrees in Technology Education. We are owners of Audio Antique LLC, a business that specializes in vintage phonographs, Edison memorabilia, Nipper collectibles, vintage dolls, and related antiques from the Victorian period to the 1940s. The authors can be contacted at: www.audioantique.com

Robin and Joan Rolfs


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