Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thomas Edison's Lab

Thomas Alva Edison: The Wizard of Menlo Park, also known as (at least according to The Flintstones) Thomas Edistone -- the inventor of the candle. Holder of 1093 patents in his life time built the largest research and development facility of its day in West Orange, NJ. In the height of operations he had over 10,000 people working for him.

Back in the mid- to late- 1990s there was a rumor Edison's labs might close forever. Yes, even in the booming days of the 1990s historic sites were threatening to close due to budget issues.

Instead of closing their doors forever, though, they closed for seven years (2002-2009) during which time there was a major renovation. If you have not been to Edison's labs in over a decade, it is worth returning to see the massive improvements.

Back when we went circa 1995, this is the only room I remember seeing -- the library. Edison's bed in the corner really stood out to me. He often worked 95 hour weeks (he has the time card punches to prove it) and would take cat naps in his library. I also remember seeing the Black Maria, where he made his first films.

Today there are over 400,000 pieces on display, including this -- the first phonograph. There are also rooms with heavy machinery in it where prototypes for his experiments were made. Much of the renovations were based on photographs, which are also on display. They are fortunate to have so much documentation. 
Another highlight of the laboratory complex were the free tours offered every half hour. We went to two of the tours. Our first tour was in the chemistry lab, which was left pretty much as it was in Edison's day. We then went to the Music Room where we heard old phonographs play tunes. Even seeing them in action, and having the docent explain how the phonographs work, I still don't understand it. If I did, I would gladly explain the magic to you.

After touring the laboratory complex we went to his home, Glenmont in the Llewellyn Park district of West Orange, NJ.  Llewellyn Park is just up the hill from his labs in a very exclusive neighborhood. Neighbors included the Merck and Palmolive Families. Edison's home, which he shared with his wife, Mina, and their three children had 29 rooms. The room that juts out on the second floor is their family room where Edison would retreat from public life to think.  The home was originally built with gas lighting in 1880, but was quickly converted to electricity after the Edisons moved into Glenmont.

The combination of seeing where someone famous both lived and worked is rare. I'm glad were able to visit on a cold Sunday afternoon. It was even nicer that we were able to participate in one of the National Park Association's fee free days.

Each year the President declares set days to be free at all National Parks. We were pleased to learn the audio tours were free, too.

National Park Service Week
April 21, 22; 25 - 29

Get Outside Day
June 9

National Public Lands DaySeptember 29

In observance of Veterans DayNovember 10, 11

Thomas Edison's Labs:

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