Nela Park

The National Electric Lamp Association (NELA) formed in 1901 under Franklin Terry and Burton Tremaine.  Much of NELA’s light-bulb innovation stemmed from, and competed with, both Brush’s arc light technology, and Thomas Edison’s incandescent lamp technology.  GE became a major stockholder in NELA as soon as 1902, and provided the former facilities of the Brush Electric Co. as a new home for NELA.  GE’s stake in the company become so substantial, 75%, federal courts ordered GE to dissolve the company in 1911.  GE quickly absorbed NELA and successively gained ownership of NELA’s new industrial complex in the suburbs, Nela Park.

The location for Nela Park was known as Panorama Heights, a place where German immigrants held vineyards prior to the parks development.  Nela Park was designed by New York landscape architect Frank E. Wallis in a Georgian style.  The finished product was the first ever industrial park, costing roughly $400,000 in 1913.  The actual move from the old Brush Electric Co. factory on East 45th Street to Nela Park on Noble Road took nineteen hours to complete on April 18, 1913.

The business park also contained several features to appease employees including a decent cafeteria, general library, a dispensary that provided dental, nursing, and medical care, a barber shop, transportation office, ample garage parking, and a local bank branch.  Nela Park also provided a range of recreational facilities such as tennis courts, baseball fields, an in-ground swimming pool, bowling alleys, and even an auditorium.  Due to its reputation as a leading innovator in electrical lighting research and development, and university campus environment, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Nela Park developed a reputation as a “University of Light.”

Recently, a centenarian time capsule was unearthed.  Originally sealed and buried on March 25, 1912 in front of a crowd of high-ranking employees, the capsule was concealed within a cornerstone of Marketing Building #307 for 100 years to the day before its exhumation in 2012.  The capsule contained a newspaper, photos, and most notably several incandescent light bulbs, which in 1912 were a state of the art development.  To the delight of the hundreds of current and former employees who witnessed the opening of the time capsule, one of the bulbs was placed on display and successfully produced light despite being stowed away for an entire century.  The current President and CEO of GE Lighting took the opportunity to point out how appropriate it was that such a lamp still functioned, citing that GE’s Nela Park was and is responsible for the development of quality, energy-efficient lighting products that benefit countless individuals and organizations.  Another time capsule is scheduled for ceremonial burial in April of 2013 at GE’s Nela Park, and it reportedly will contain “a GE Energy Smart 60-watt LED bulb that lasts over 22 years when operated 3 hours a day” among other things.

Construction Begins on Nela Park, 1913

The Austin Company worked closely with representatives from the National Electric Lamp Association and General Electric to carry out the Frank E. Wallis-designed Nela Park industrial campus.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Cornerstone Ceremony, 1913

National Electric Lamp Association shareholders visit the construction site to witness a corner stone laying for one of the main buildings at Nela Park on April 18, 1913.  Little did they know that Nela Park would eventually be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Turning the Corner

Vans transporting equipment to Nela Park on April 18, 1913 are shown turning off Euclid Avenue onto Nela Avenue.  A caravan of over 200 vehicles transported approximately 18,000 packages for the relocation.   The move was completed in 19 hours, and the 400 original Nela Park employees lost only three hours of work.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Nela Park, 1963

Landscape Architect Frank E. Wallis modeled the industrial buildings in a Georgian style, after English palaces, and set them among an extravagant 37 acre landscape.  GE continued to expand at Nela Park by adding several structures until it occupied its largest size of 92 acres in 1921, which it maintains to this day.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Fluorescent Lamps, 1940

This 1940 image shows inspectors examining some of the twelve thousand new fluorescent lamps being manufactured daily at Nela Park. Initially, GE’s National Lamp Works, today known simply as GE Lighting, was primarily responsible for the incandescent lighting development program until the advent of fluorescent lighting. GE developed the first commercial fluorescent light bulbs in 1936.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Many-eyed Vehicle, 1951

Automotive lighting test cars, such as this Lincoln, were used by GE to check the performance of all-glass sealed-beam headlamps and other light sources under actual driving conditions. Inspecting the car are GE automotive lighting engineers Val J. Roper, left, and George E. Meese, right.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Laboratory at GE Lighting, 1963

During the mid-1970s rumors arose of GE’s intent to relocate its lamp division, however, all suspicions quelled when GE revealed it was only planning to construct an engineering and administrative complex in Twinsburg, Ohio.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

GE Lighting Institute, 1963

Once established, Nela Park became known not just for its developments in the field of electrical lighting, but for its employee treatment.  The National Lamp Works earned the top award for service to employees from the International Exposition of Safety and Sanitation in 1913.  Seven years later, a leading business magazine named Nela Park the “best kept plant in America.”  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

75,000-Watt Light Bulb, 1966

Students tour the GE Lighting Institute.  From left to right: George Jones, 14, 8115 Melrose Ave. Deborah Jones, 14, 7420 Dellenbeaugh Ave. William Cohen, Science Dept. head at Addison Jr. H.S. Ken Estler, supervisor of GE programs.  The picture is evident of a bygone era that lauded the brightest, most intense bulb, whereas today bulbs are trending towards endurance and low wattage for the sake of conserving energy.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Holiday Light Display, 1928.

Many Clevelanders have fond memories of Nela Park’s annual holiday lighting displays, which have been brightening the holiday season for decades.  Although the displays once sprawled throughout Nela’s campus, the displays are now limited to the outer edges of the campus along Noble Road and Euclid Avenue.  Image courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Building Nela Park

Richard Austin recounts the importance of Nela Park and the electric lamp to the Austin Company’s success.

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4 Responses to Nela Park

  1. Avatar of Mark Souther Mark Souther says:

    Great content, including some excellent images. My only critiques pertain to the captions, which are also generally good.

    - On the first one, you might comment on the decidedly low-tech manner in which the high-tech GE campus was built — using actual horsepower.
    - The image of the 75,000-watt bulb offers an opportunity to comment on the very different time period in which a superlative bulb was one that was extremely powerful and bright, whereas today the superlatives relate to energy conservation and trying to achieve the lowest possible wattage in relation to lumens.

  2. Avatar of zlafleur zlafleur says:

    Very interesting app site, I have no room to provide critiques and this read truly like a professional piece.

    I really enjoy the GE connection that this historical Cleveland landmark has. It goes to show that it is not always the case that corporations or entrepreneurs serve to take away from the cultural significance in cities. Wonderful read.

  3. Avatar of cciullafaup cciullafaup says:

    This piece is well thought out. The description read is informative and organized. You provided some interesting facts, for example, the time capsule. That is a very neat tidbit. The images are all great. Great work! It is definitely interesting.

  4. Skpcat says:

    NELA Park is of great significance to me in two ways. 1) My late uncle worked at NELA from 1950-1984. For at least fifteen years of that time, he was manager of Product Reliability in the Miniature Lamp Dept. 2) I have a photo of him when he was supervisor of the auto lab, in front of a vehicle similar to the one above. Probably a slim chance, but is there anyone out there that may have worked there at that time. I really would like to talk to them. Thank you in advance for your help. Have a great day.

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