Discovering the Life and Work of Thomas Alva Edison, America’s Greatest Inventor … in New Jersey, Michigan, Washington DC, and Florida
In 1876, Thomas Alva Edison opened his industrial research laboratory in the Menlo Park section of Edison, NJ, which was then Raritan Township. The “invention factory,” as he called it, created items that resulted in more than 400 patents, including: the phonograph, the first electric railway, which actually ran along the present day Middlesex Avenue in the township, and the incandescent lamp. On December 31, 1879, Christie Street, in present day Edison (renamed by citizen vote in 1954), on which the Edison Memorial Tower now stands, was the first street in the United States to be illuminated by incandescent lamps. Talk about lighting up the street for New Year’s Eve! Mrs. Sarah Jordan's Boarding House, which at the time was home to many of Thomas Edison's workers, was the first residence in the world to be lighted that way (same day).
By 1887, Edison’s laboratory had outgrown the Menlo Park facility and moved to a much larger complex in West Orange, NJ. Just prior to this, Edison had moved his residence to the Henry Hudson Holly-designed Glenmont Estate in the town of West Orange. While he did also maintain homes at 25 Gramercy Park in Manhattan and in Fort Meyers Florida, he spent most of his subsequent life living and working in West Orange (20 miles west of New York City), until his death at Glenmont at the age of 84 in 1931.
From the moment Thomas Edison left Menlo Park, the abandoned buildings began to deteriorate, especially taking severe tolls from fires in 1914 and 1919, and subsequent parts lootings. In the 1920s, Edison’s good friend, Henry Ford, reconstructed the buildings from surviving materials and photographs and rebuilt them as part of Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
What you can see today and where …
In the Menlo Park area of Edison, NJ, you can visit the Thomas Edison Center, also known as the Menlo Park Museum/Edison Memorial Tower. The tower was dedicated on February 11, 1938, on what would have been Edison’s 91st birthday. The concrete tower rises 131 feet above the Terrace, is topped by a 14-foot 8-inch high bulb made of Pyrex segments by the Corning
In the Menlo Park area of Edison, NJ, you can visit the Thomas Edison Center, also known as the Menlo Park Museum/Edison Memorial Tower. The tower was dedicated on February 11, 1938, on what would have been Edison’s 91st birthday. The concrete tower rises 131 feet above the Terrace, is topped by a 14-foot 8-inch high bulb made of Pyrex segments by the Corning Corporation, and marks the location of Edison's original Menlo Park laboratory. In 1986, the Edison Township Historical Society erected 12 period street lamps surrounding the tower to commemorate the illumination of Christie Street. The Edison Memorial Tower is located on the National Register of Historic Places and jointly administered by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Parks and Forestry, the Township of Edison, and the non-profit Edison Memorial Tower Corporation.
In West Orange, NJ, you can visit the Thomas Edison National Historic Park. This includes: the Laboratory complex, where the first motion pictures were recorded, open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm, and the 26-room Glenmont House, set on a 15 acre estate, open Friday-Sunday, 11:30 am to 3 pm (Wednesday-Sunday from July 4 to September 6, 11:30 to 4 pm). Glenmont is decorated for the holidays as Mina Edison would have had it. The exhibition “The Edison Talking Doll Recordings 1888-1890” is on view indefinitely.
At Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, you can: explore Edison’s childhood, the Menlo Park Laboratory, his inventions and patents, and the original, restored Jordan Boarding House. Hours are 7 days, 9:30 am to 5 pm, with extended evening hours for holiday events.
At the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, you can engage with exhibitions such as: Edison’s electric light, the lighting revolution, Edison’s light bulb turns 135, the inventor before 40, the inventor after 40, home life, and more.
Both Thomas Edison and Henry Ford maintained contiguous “Winter Estates” in Fort Myers, Florida. Today The Edison & Ford Winter Estates are one 20 acre facility that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a winner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Restoration Award. You can visit the historic 1929-era buildings and gardens, including the award-winning “Moonlight Garden”, as well as the Edison Botanic Research Lab and the Edison Ford Museum. The newly restored buildings include the Edison Main House, Guest House, and Caretaker’s House and the Ford House. Open 7 days, 9 am to 5:30 pm, with extended holiday evening hours.