When the people at the Edison Tech Center get together to distribute some Christmas cheer, you can be sure they’ll use the occasion as a teaching moment.
This holiday season, the group has donated 108 new electric train sets to the Toys for Tots program. The cost of the trains, $2,500, was covered by a gift from an anonymous donor, as were the electric toy cars donated by the Edison Tech Center to the Schenectady Day Nursery and Schenectady Boys and Girls Clubs last Christmas.
“There are 108 boxes, and each box comes with a complete train kit,” said John Harnden, a GE retiree and founder of the Edison Tech Center in 2001.
“Each train also takes two batteries, and we’ve included them with each gift. We like this idea because the train doesn’t plug into a wall socket, so there’s no hazard for a young child.”
Harnden and other Edison Tech Center officials were at their Broadway facility Wednesday morning to see the model trains, manufactured by WowToyz of Vergennes, Vermont, picked up by officials from Toys for Tots. Harnden and the Edison center’s board of directors are using the opportunity to honor the memory of Thomas Davenport, a Vermont blacksmith who invented the first electric motor in Brandon, Vermont. in 1834.
“There’s a real connection between the work that Thomas Davenport did and the work done by Joseph Henry,” said Harnden. “It all ties into the work that was done at Ironville, and then the Burden Iron Works in Troy and by Union College President [Eliphalet] Nott. That’s part of the story we’re putting together here. The electrification of this country was the No. 1 accomplishment of the 20th century, not the automobile. It was electrification, and it’s all tied to stuff that was done in our area.”
Henry, who spent much of his early life in Galway and attended Albany Academy, was an early 19th century inventor who became the first director of the Smithsonian Institution. Nott, a preacher turned college president, was also a scientist and invented the first stove for anthracite coal.
While Davenport isn’t as familiar a name in the Capital Region as Henry and Nott, it’s one that should be remembered, according to Frank Wicks, an engineering professor at Union College and an Edison center board member.
“He was a Vermont blacksmith who made the first rotating electric machine back in the 1830s,” said Wicks. “Joseph Henry and others had also worked on electrical machines, but Davenport was able to make it rotate back and forth, and that’s still how we produce electricity today.”