New exhibit at SPARK Museum features rare electrical artifacts

Sign advertising the "War of the Currents" exhibit at SPARK Museum in Bellingham, WA.

Moviegoers fascinated by the Hollywood film “The Current War” (opening in theaters Oct. 4) will be amazed at SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention in Bellingham, WA, where the collection includes actual artifacts from the historic War of the Currents involving the world’s greatest inventor and two of the world’s greatest engineers: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla.

Edison’s first successful electric lamp, shown here, was demonstrated at his Menlo Park lab in 1879.

“The War of the Currents” is a permanent exhibit at SPARK Museum describing the series of events that pitted Edison against Westinghouse in the race to determine the technology that would power the world – AC or DC. It features rare and beautiful artifacts such as Edison’s first successful electric lamp, demonstrated at his Menlo Park lab in 1879.

Also on display is a section of the actual Edison DC power distribution cable installed in New York City in 1883 and unearthed after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Interspersed with the artifacts are a number of interactive displays, including a working model of the Egg of Columbus: a device designed by Nikola Tesla in 1887 to demonstrate the concept of rotating electromagnetic fields.

“The historic War of the Currents is an extremely relevant story to tell right now, as it embodies conflict between new technologies, personal agendas, media and propaganda, and even government regulation,” says Museum President John Jenkins.

The exhibit is set against the backdrop of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, where Westinghouse finally triumphed. After licensing Telsa’s AC motor in 1888 and utilizing a transformer, Westinghouse used AC to solve Edison’s DC “distance problem.” But when Westinghouse tried to gain a contract to illuminate the Chicago Columbian Exposition, General Electric (formerly Edison Electric) refused to sell their patented lamps – the only ones available. Westinghouse engineers scrambled to create a new “stopper lamp,” which is also on display. Westinghouse produced 250,000 stopper lamps just in time, and the lighting of the Exposition was a great success, securing his company’s prestige.

These and many more stories are told at SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention. Tesla’s inventions are further highlighted in the MegaZapper electrical shows each Saturday and Sunday afternoon, with a 9-foot Tesla Coil emitting 4 million volts of lightning. Exhibits span four centuries of scientific achievement in a world-class collection celebrating the inventions and innovations that make our modern world possible.

SPARK Museum is located at 1312 Bay St. in downtown Bellingham. Its regular hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit or call 360-738-3886.