Boscawen New Hampshire Inventor, Prof. Moses Gerrish Farmer (1820-1893)

When asked who invented the electric light bulb, most people say Thomas Edison

This simply is not true.

In 1868, eleven years before Edison patented his version of the light bulb, Moses Farmer, with a dynamo of his own invention, illuminated a room of his house (in Salem Massachusetts) for several months–this was the first known case of domestic incandescent lighting. According to a Brownsville TX newspaper of 1939, Prof. Moses Gerrish Farmer was living at 11 Pear (the clipping says Pear, but could they mean Pearl) Street in Salem MA when in 1859 he arranged a series of lamps in his parlor, the current for which was supplied by a wet cell battery.

Moses is probably most famous for developing and patenting (with William F. Channing) the first electric fire alarm system, installed in 1852 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Moses Gerrish Farmer, son of Col. John and Sally (Gerrish) Farmer was born in Boscawen, NH, 9 February 1820. He attended Phillips Academy, Andover MA in the autumn of 1837. He entered Dartmouth College in 1840 remaining there three years, leaving on account of ill health. The degree of A.M. was later conferred upon him by the faculty of Dartmouth in 1853. He married 25 Dec 1844 to Miss Hannah T. Shapleigh, dau of Richard Shapleigh of Berwick Maine. He removed to Elliot ME where he was preceptor of the Academy there, and later to a similar job at Belknap School in Dover New Hampshire.  In the December of 1847 he moved to Framingham MA to be closer to his work. In July 1848 he moved to Salem, Massachusetts. In Oct 1872 he accepted the professorship of electrical science a the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station, established in 1869 in Newport, Rhode Island, for the instruction of officers of the navy in electricity and chemistry, as applied to the arts of war.  He died in Chicago, IL on May 25, 1893. [An article about his wife and daughter will be posted at a later date].

According to the Daily Globe, St. Paul MN, in May of 1883, Moses G. Farmer won a patent case against Stan & Peyton for an improvement in electric lighting. He was able to sufficiently demonstrated that he had completed the invention in the manner prescribed in specifications and drawings.

Highlights & Accomplishments: He helped build and maintain some of the pioneer telegraph lines of Massachusetts and experimented in multiple telegraphy. He exhibited (1847) an electric train that carried children, invented a process for electroplating aluminum, and installed (1851) in Boston the first electric fire-alarm service in any city. His later years were spent chiefly in developing the incandescent electric light. Twenty years before Edison’s success he produced (1858-59) electric lamps, and in 1868, with a dynamo of his own invention, he illuminated a room of his house (in Salem) for several months–first first known case of domestic incandescent lighting. He is probably most famous for developing and patenting (with William F. Channing) the first electric fire alarm system in Boston, Massachusetts (installed in 1852).

Additional Experiments: These began in 1845 when he invented an electro-magnetic engine. In 1846 he constructed a small electro-magnetic locomotive, also a small railroad track, and exhibited it in various towns and cities with accompanying lectures, and demonstrating how the principle could be used with torpedoes and sub-marine blasting. At his first lecture in Dover, New Hampshire, he below up a miniature ship, placed in a washbowl of water, using electricity. In 1846 he invented the hook or sickle-shaped climber for the use of telephone line repairers, in climbing poles. In 1859 he created an electro-magnetic clock. He was adept in electro-metallurgy, and in 1855 he successfully deposited aluminum form its chloride solution (the first to do so). He continually improved and upgraded the telegraph process. In 1852-3 he made many experiments upon rheostates, voltomerts and magnetometers. In 1853 he received a patent on an improved porous cell for galvanic batteries.

In a letter addressed to the Town of Boscawen, New Hampshire on the 150th anniversary, moses g farmer older 2Moses Gerrish Farmer wrote: “We live in a wonderful age. The many inventions and improvements which we possess, that render life more comfortable and useful, are indeed astonishing, and most of them have had their birth and development in the latter half of this town’s existence. The reaper, the mower, the steamboat, the railroad, the telegraph, the telephone, the fire-alarm telegraph, the electric light, the electric railway,–all are the productions of the last seventy-five years, and contribute to our comfort and happiness, rendering us better able to work for the good of humanity and for the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom. To some of these improvements, as well as to others not alluded to here, it has been my good fortune to contribute a little, having constructed the first pair of roller skates in 1834, the first electrical railway which carried passengers in 1847, the first apparatus for giving alarm of fire by telegraph in 1848, the first duplex repeater in 1856, which subsequently, in the hands of Edison, made his famous quadruplex possible, also having lighted my house by electricity and the incandescent light in 1859, and having built the first self-exciting dynamo in 1866, and the largest thermo-electric battery which the world ever saw in 1868.”

If you learn one thing today, it is that several people invented light bulbs before Edison did, including one genius inventor, Moses Gerrish Farmer of New Hampshire.

Additional reading:

Biography: Moses G. Farmer

JSTOR: Moses G. Farmer


John-1 Farmer of Ansley, probably son of John; married Isabella Barbage of Great Parkinston. He died in Ansley in 1669. His widow, Isabella, came to Massachusetts with some of her children, and settled in Billerica MA. She subsequently m. Elder Thomas Wiswall of Cambridge, now Newton MA. She d. in Billerica, Dec 1683, very aged.
Children of John & Isabella (Barbage) Farmer:
1. +Edward Farmer, b. 1741 Ansley England.

——Next Generation—–

Edward-2 Farmer (John-1) b. at Ansley, England in 1741; came to Massachusetts  1670-1673; settled in Billerica MA; admitted to town privileges 11 Jan 1673. He lived a short time in Woburn MA; held offices of trust and honor. He married Mary –. He died in Billerica MA 27 May 1727, aged 86. His homestead remained in the family for several generations.
Children of Edward & Mary (?) Farmer:
1. Sarah Farmer, b. England; m. her cousin Thomas Pollard of Coventry, England, who came to Billerica MA. She d. 3 May 1725.
2. John Farmer, b. 19 Aug 1671; m. Abigail –; d. 9 Sep 1736
3. Edward Farmer, b. 22 March 1674; m. Mary Richardson; d. 17 Dec 1752
4. Mary Farmer, b. 3 Nov 1675
5. Barberry Farmer, b. 26 Jan 1677
6. Elizabeth Farmer, b. 17 May 1680; m. William Green of Malden MA
7. Thomas Farmer, b. 8 Jan 1683; m. Sarah Hunt; d. in Hollis NH 1767.
8. +Oliver Farmer, b. 2 Feb 1686; m. Abigail Johnson

——Next Generation—–

Oliver-3 Farmer (Edward-2, John-1) was born 2 Feb 1686; m. Abigail Johnson of Woburn MA. He d. 23 Feb 1761 at Billerica MA.
Children of Oliver & Abigail (Johnson) Farmer:
1. Abigail Farmer, b. 22 Dec 1717, d. 1718
2. Abigail Farmer (2d) b. 1719; m. Jonathan Richardson of Billerica MA
3. Mary Farmer, b. 26 Aug 1872; m. William Baldwin of Billerica MA; d. Sep 1803
4. Sarah Farmer, twin, b. 14 Dec 1723; m. Edward Jewett of Rowley MA; d. 1819
5. Rebecca Farmer, twin, b. 14 Dec 1723; m. Samuel Rogers of Billerica MA; d. 30 Aug 1809
6. Oliver Farmer, b. 31 July 1728
7. Isabella Farmer, b. 2 March 1731; m. Benjamin Warren of Billerica MA; d. 23 Feb 1761
8. Edward Farmer, b. 24 Feb 1734; m. Sarah Brown; d. 19 Aug 1811
9. +John Farmer, b. 7 Dec 1737; m1) Hannah Davis; m2) Mrs. Sarah (Russell) Adams

——Next Generation—–

John-4 Farmer (Oliver-3, Edward-2, John-1) Was b. 7 Dec 1737; m1st) Hannah Davis; m2nd Mrs. Sarah (Russell) (Bowers) Adams. She was born in Dracut MA. Upon the death of her third husband, John Farmer, she came to Boscawen with her children to be near children by her first marriage, and who resided in Boscawen. She lived to the age of 95. She died in Pembroke NH in March of 1846.
Children of John & Hannah (Davis) Farmer:
1. Hannah Farmer
2. Rebecca Farmer
3. Abigail Farmer
4. Polly Farmer
5. John Farmer
6. Lucy Farmer
Children of John & Sarah (Russell) Farmer:
7. +John (Col.) Farmer, b. 11 Dec 1791; m. Sally Gerrish
8. Hannah Farmer, b. 15 Dec 1794; m. Bliss Corser of Boscawen. She d. 4 Feb 1852 in Portage NY

——Next Generation—–

Col. John-5 Farmer (John-4., Oliver-3, Edward-2, John-1) was born 11 Dec 1791; he m. 11 Feb 1819 Sally Gerrish, dau of Moses Gerrish of Boscawen NH. He died 17 July 1836.
Children of Col. John & Sally (Gerrish) Farmer:
1. +Moses Gerrish Farmer, Professor, b. 9 Feb 1820; m. Hannah T. Shapleigh
2. Page French Farmer, b. 28 June 1821; d. 27 July 1822
3. John Page Farmer, b. 24 Sep 1823; m. Martha Locke, Great Falls; resided Minnesota; had children: John Quincy (b 1848, d. 1857), Martha Jane (b 1851, d. 1857), Mary White (b 22 March 1853), Charles Russell (b 11 March 1855)
4. Sallie Russell Farmer, b. 30 Aug 1826; m. Charles C. Coffin; resided in Boston; d. 20 June 1910
5. Jane Gray Farmer, b. 7 June 1828, twin; m. Ephraim Little of Webster NH, d. 27 June 1867
6. Jeremiah Otis Farmer, b. 7 June 1828, twin; d. 6 Dec 1828

——Next Generation—–

John Page Farmer, son of Col. John and Sally (Gerrish) Farmer was born on 24 September 1823 in Boscawen NH, and died 10 July 1806 in Ada, Norman Co., MN. He is buried in Ada Cemetery.  He married Martha Locke.  She was born in May 1814 in New Hampshire and died in 1903. Buried beside her husband. Resided Minnesota.
Children of John P. & Martha (Locke) Farmer:
1. John Quincy Farmer, b 1848, d 1857
2. Martha Jane Farmer, b 1851, d 1857
3. Mary White Farmer, b. 22 March 1853 in Boscawen NH, died 26 Jan 1938 in Minnesota.  She married Charles Richard Andrews.  Children [Andrews]: Wallace (1880-1972), Herbert Tenney (1884-1983), Charles Richard (1886-1909), Helen Martha (1891-1965, m. Ellsworth A. L. Rieke).
4. Charles Russell Farmer, b. 11 March 1855

Mrs. Hannah Farmer

Mrs. Hannah Farmer

Moses Gerrish Farmer, son of Col. John and Sally (Gerrish) Farmer was born in Boscawen, NH, 9 February 1820. He married 25 Dec 1844 to Miss Hannah T. Shapleigh, dau of Richard Shapleigh of Berwick Maine. He died in Chicago, IL on May 25, 1893 while preparing for the Columbian Exhibition. They are both buried in Farmer Family Cemetery, Eliot, Maine.
Children of Moses G. & Hannah T. (Shapleigh) Farmer:
1. Sarah Jane Farmer, b. 22 July 1847 in Dover NH. She died Nov. 23, 1916. Sarah helped found the Green Acre Baha’i School, where Abdu’l-Bahá visited in 1912.
2. Clarence Farmer, b. 26 May 1860; d. 27 May 1860.

[Editor’s Note: article updated 22 January 2104]

This entry was posted in Genealogy, New Hampshire Inventors, New Hampshire Men and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Boscawen New Hampshire Inventor, Prof. Moses Gerrish Farmer (1820-1893)

  1. Wendy Brenzel says:

    My ggg grandmother, Caroline Amanda (Paul) Post was Hannah’s cousin. Caroline’s mother, Mary (Toby) Paul and Hannah’s mother, Olive (Toby) Shapleigh, were sisters. Their mother was Hannah (Shapleigh) Toby. Caroline and her husband, William Marshal Post were married at the Farmer’s home on Pearl Street in Salem in 1851. I have their family bible that atests to this. This home was referred to as Eden and is the home with the train and was the one that was lighted. What rich family history.

Leave a Reply