Happiness & Long Life for All its Residents #94

Becky Weiser

Wednesday Sep 7th, 2022

The first thing I do when I walk into my office each morning is turn on the lights.  I don’t care if a little sunlight is coming through my small window or not, I mindlessly turn them on and go about my day.  Today though, I thought about Thomas Edison and his connection to Erie when I turned on my lights and then did a little research.

Image from

In 1878, Thomas Edison established the Edison Electric Light Company in New Jersey and improved the technology already begun on a practical electric light bulb.  In 1879, his work paid off and a bulb was produced.  He then went on to establish electric generating stations around the country for the energy required (smart guy!).  In 1887, the Edison Electric Light and Power Company was organized in Erie. The Company was located on the east side of Peach Street between 10th and 11th Streets.

In 1892, Edison merged his company with the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, which became the General Electric Company.  Headquartered in Schenectady, New York, the young company needed to expand almost immediately – electricity and electrical products were hot!  Beginning in 1906, the company procured 350 acres east of the city of Erie to develop into a factory.  The only problem with the location was that besides a few farms, few people lived in the area to work for GE.  The only transportation that existed was seasonal trolley service from Erie to the Grove House Park located near Four Mile Creek and Lake Erie. 

Image from of Lawrence Park row house

In 1911, 400 additional acres were purchased nearby and housing for workers began to be built.  That housing and businesses to support the population became Lawrence Park, named after the naval hero James Lawrence (who uttered the famous words “Don’t Give Up the Ship”).  Streets were named after inventors such as William Rankine (thermodynamics), Benjamin Silliman (fractional distillation), and James Smithson (chemist, mineralogist and founder of the Smithsonian Institution).  The town was designed by John Nolan, the nation’s first city planner.  By the way, Nolan was hired as a consultant to improve the city of Erie in 1913.  The “row houses” in Lawrence Park were built during WWI.  Other styles of architecture developed later and temporary housing was brought in during WWII for factory workers. 

The Erie plant was the headquarters of the GE Transportation Division.  Electric locomotives and parts were the main focus.  In 1912 the first locomotives rolled off the factory floor.  Later, mining equipment, heavy duty diesel engines, transit systems, railroad components and wind turbine gear boxes were produced.  From 1927-1936, facilities in Erie produced thousands of monitor top refrigerators.  We currently have one on display on the second floor of our New Exhibit Building.  That product line was later moved to Appliance Park in Louisville, Kentucky. 

GE refrigerator on exhibit on the second floor of the Hagen History Center’s New Exhibit Building.

Over the years, Employee/Employer relations were not an infrequent problem at the GE Erie facility.  Due to these ongoing issues, in 2013 GE opened another transportation facility in Fort Worth, Texas.  The Texas workers were not in a Union consequently wages were lower.  Even though much work was transferred to Fort Worth, production in Erie did not cease.    

In February of 2019, GE Transportation was acquired by Wabtec and the work continues.  Wabtec may have a smaller presence at the Lawrence Park plant but their website claims they are part of “the leading global provider of equipment, systems, digital solutions, and value-added services.  Whether it is freight rail, transit, mining, industrial or marine, our expertise, technologies, and people  - together are accelerating the future of transportation.”  Based in Pittsburgh, I wish them happiness and long life here in Erie!