Brisbane's powerful link to Thomas Edison unearthed in Queen's Wharf development

Brisbane's powerful link to Thomas Edison unearthed in Queen's Wharf development

Brisbane's powerful link to Thomas Edison unearthed in Queen's Wharf development

Updated 6 February 2018, 17:55 AEDT

A development in Brisbane's CBD has unearthed a rare example of one of Thomas Edison's inventions and offered a glimpse of a time when the city joined London and New York at the forefront of electricity.

Excavators in Brisbane have unearthed 134-year-old electrical cables known as "Edison tubes" under a CBD street, revealing the city's earliest power grid.

Designed by inventor Thomas Edison, the tubes date back to 1884, when they were laid beneath William Street to supply electricity to the parliamentary precinct.

Some of these cables were removed today as work continues at the site of Brisbane's new Queen's Wharf casino precinct.

Edison is largely credited as inventing the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph and one of the earliest motion picture cameras.

Brisbane was the third city in the world after London and New York to get the technology.

"They're extremely significant because these are the first underground mains that were installed in the southern hemisphere," retired electrical engineer Brian Beckinsale said.

"Parliamentarians didn't particularly like their hot gas lights … and so when they found out Edison in the United States had invented the electric light bulb, generators and distribution mains, they put in an order for dedicated power station to be built at the printery."

Archaeologists supervised the excavation and cleaning process of the rare tubes, before they were prepared for shipment around the world.

"We thought it might be quite brittle, being in the ground for so long, but it's quite robust," project archaeologist Tina King said.

Once the cables are pulled from the ground, they're cut into pieces, capped on either side, and coated in an oil to prevent corrosion.

"It's a milestone for Brisbane's development as a city and we're making sure to take the utmost care in the conservation of these important artefacts," Ms King said.

Sections of the cables will be housed in London's Science Centre, the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey, Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, Commissariat Store Museum in Brisbane, the Highfields Pioneer Village in Toowoomba, as well as Parliament House.

"The legacy will be to show future generations how manufacturing occurred of electrical cables in the 1880s," Mr Beckinsale said.

"It was very difficult to actually construct, with the steel pipe and copper conductor down the inside and insulation in 20-foot [6.1-metre] lengths."

At the time they were invented, Edison decided 6.1 metres was the maximum length horses could carry as the tubes were transported across the laneways of New York.