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The Rich History of Harrison Plaza Mall

May 18, 2022
Harrison Plaza Minimall

As the idiom goes, There is More Than Meets the Eye to the Harrison Plaza Mall.  The mini-Mall that takes up an entire city block between South Frank E. Rodgers Blvd and South 5th Street between Bergen and Sussex Streets is a landmark in Harrison but few know its history. 

The Harrison Plaza Mall is a landmark and provides an open space with its parking lot in a town that does not have large open spaces.  Even in the Redevelopment Zone, there are few open spaces.  That was not what the original Redevelopment Plan called for but let’s not go down the lack of Green Space tangent.

The Thomas Edison National Historical Park

If you take the Bergen Street Ramp to Route 280 Westbound and travel to  Exit 10 you can follow your navigation or the signs to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange.  A good local day trip where you can learn a lot about Thomas Edison who invented the incandescent light bulb among other inventions.  Edison would go on to be honored as the Father of the incandescent light bulb.  Edison never manufactured light bulbs in West Orange.  Edison manufactured light bulbs in Menlo Park NJ and you guessed it in Harrison NJ. at the current location of the Harrison Plaza Mall.  

In 1882, a hundred and forty years ago, Thomas Edison purchased the entire city block that the Harrison Plaza Mall occupies now and adjacent properties for the sole purpose of manufacturing incandescent light bulbs and related equipment.

Edison Lamp Company, Harrison NJ

Edison acquired the property from Peters Manufacturing Company which made oilcloth.  Peters Manufacturing had sustained a major fire on the site and decided that rather than rebuild they would sell out to Thomas Edison.  In 1878, Edison had formed the Edison Electric Light Company by raising $300,000 in capital from investors including JP Morgan of neighboring New York City to manufacture incandescent light bulbs.

Edison Early Incandescent Light

The popularity of incandescent light bulbs caused the original manufacturing plant in Menlo Park to be in short order inadequate.  The Harrison Edison Plant became the earliest large-scale light bulb factory in the world.

The plant consisted of three four-story buildings that survived the fire, a boiler house, office, stables, a residential house, and sheds. The factory was ten times greater than that of the Menlo Park factory, and the vacant land on the site offered room for expansion.  Incandescent lamps would be Made in Harrison for over 50 years.


Edison Lamp Works 1892

In 1892, the Edison Electric Light Company was merged into the General Electric (GE) company among other companies. Post the GE merger there was further expansion ultimately a total of 24 buildings with 153,956 square feet of floor space with 1044 employees.  In 1912, the number of employees had risen to 4000 employees.  No wonder President William Howard Taft in 1912 stated after a tour of Harrison that “Harrison was a hive of industry”.  The Edison now a GE Plant was only one of over a dozen major companies that called Harrison home. President Taft’s quote was modified slightly into the Town of Harrison’s marketing slogan the “Beehive of Industry”.  To learn more read “Made in Harrison The Beehive of Industry".

Radio Corporation of America

In 1929, GE decided to close the Harrison Lamp Works to the dismay of over 4000 employees but the property was not vacant for long.  In 1932, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) purchased the plant and the surrounding buildings.  RCA would also find success at the location.  RCA played an important role in the invention and production of tubes, radios, televisions, and other electronics that would go on to change the world.  Today’s modern computers were made possible by the technology invented in Harrison by engineers working for RCA.

So when you go to the Quick Check at the Harrison Plaza Mall for your morning coffee.  Or Lunch/Dinner at one of the Restaurants at the Harrison Plaza Mall, you are visiting hallowed ground that had the best and brightest working on technology that directly led to the computer or smartphone you are using to read this article.

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