Thomas Edison National Historical Park
Much to my surprise, the landmark honoring the man who makes my life so much easier is less than five miles from house. A friend was visiting us for the weekend so we decided to go over and see what the Thomas Edison National Historical Park was all about.
November 1, 2009
Thomas Edison National Historic Museum, West Orange, NJ
We could have almost walked here. Actually, we should have, but then we’d have to walk back, too, and that was more than we were up for on this lazy Sunday. So we hopped into the car and made our way to West Orange. On the way we saw a strange sight: on the front lawn of a house was a fully-antlered buck head to head with what looked to be a Springer Spaniel. By the time we could turn around and investigate (we were concerned that the dog’s collar might be caught on a tine) both animals had disappeared. That’s one mystery I would have liked an answer to!
And on we went to the Park, where real Park Rangers had their nifty Park Ranger outfits on, complete with Ranger hats. Not at all what I expected, for some reason. We paid up (only $5 and free use of the audio tour headsets) and started to wander around the property.
At his “Invention Factory” (the three story brick building in the photos) Edison developed the phonograph, invented the movie camera and the nickel-iron alkaline storage battery, and was awarded 500 patents. The complex includes his chemistry lab, machine shop, and library. It is all in surprisingly good shape, although the museum had been closed since 2003 for renovations and had only been reopened for about two months, so perhaps that it just looked new and shiney because it had been recently dusted.
The front of the West Orange Lab site
Original time clock
Inside the library
Whimsical use of Edison’s new invention
Edison’s bed in the library, for quick naps
Patent searches took up a lot of time
The fabricating room was a maze of motors and belts and machines. OSHA would have a field day here. The stockroom had almost anything you could ever want. Decide that you might get a good result if you used elephant hide? It’s here. How about walrus tusk? Check. Doweling? What size and material? The saying was that you could create anything from a precision watch to a locomotive and never have to leave the building to do it. I believe it.
Machinery ready to create
A view into the stock room
Proof that we should have gone metric a century ago
These stairs fascinated me (me and Aaron)
The museum allows for access to all three floors and most of the rooms on each one. The third floor is primarily dedicated to a museum-like showing of actual or reproductions of early inventions. It was all well laid out and the audio tour gave some good information.
I still can’t understand legal writings
Steve Jobs infringes on the original iPhone
The “books” are marked “letters”, but what kind, I don’t know
Desk and shelves in Edison’s personal chemistry lab upstairs
The music room
Photo illustrating how certain instruments were recorded
Horns of various sizes
Set up and ready to record
Display of sound effect objects
Monty Python fans, please note #5
The rest of the third floor was primarily storage, not clearly labeled nor very interesting looking. I listened to a couple of the audio tour links, wished I had some of the sturdy wooden furniture I could see behind the mesh and wondered what was in the cardboard boxes. Then we left and went to a Ranger-led talk in one of the exterior chemistry labs.
Storage on the third floor
“the voices of the little monsters were exceedingly unpleasant to hear”
A father and daughter were waiting outside of the building with us when the Ranger showed up. He let the five us into the small brick structure and began his spiel about the history of the contents and how Edison and his team were attempting to make rubber from Goldenrod plants.
I love the wooden bucket
Dan checking out the inventory
Peeling labels and unmarked bottles
Test tube racks, scale pan and weight
Up close and personal
More stuff that Dan and Aaron know all about
Batteries and alcohol
The Ranger knew what he had to know, but it was a lot of fun when Dan and Aaron would step in and give technical terms for the equipment and processes. Then the little girl asked her dad (who apparently knew quite a bit himself) about one of the pieces and when he stumbled, Dan took over. It was so cute to watch her look up at him as he rattled on (in “real people speak”) about how the stuff worked.
Dan explaining how the Soxhlet Extractor works
She was very bright and caught on right away
Glassware in the cases
Really fancy glassware
Scientists. They walk among us.
The Ranger was pleased to have someone else take over his tour and he thanked Dan and Aaron for sharing their knowledge. It was fun to be with someone who really knew what they were talking about. And the Ranger let us in on a little secret: when they renovated the museum, they replaced all of the hazardous chemicals with lookalikes. But then he told us where they put the originals. I told him I’d keep the secret, but it was funny to know how far they hadn’t gone.
Once the chemistry lab tour was over, we meandered around a couple of buildings, finished up what we hadn’t finished inside and then went off to discover lunch at the Tick Tock Diner.
Dan holds up a lump of coal. I think I know what I’m getting for Christmas
Sign showing the Great Fire of 1914
Main lab building, with production building in the background
Tracks to move the Black Maria – to follow the sun during filming