Edison NHP

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.

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The front of the West Orange Lab site

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Original time clock

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Inside the library

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Whimsical use of Edison’s new invention

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Edison’s bed in the library, for quick naps

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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.

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Machinery ready to create

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A view into the stock room

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Proof that we should have gone metric a century ago

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Fire hose

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Gears

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These stairs fascinated me (me and Aaron)

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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.

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I still can’t understand legal writings

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Steve Jobs infringes on the original iPhone

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The “books” are marked “letters”, but what kind, I don’t know

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Desk and shelves in Edison’s personal chemistry lab upstairs

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The music room

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Photo illustrating how certain instruments were recorded

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Horns of various sizes

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Set up and ready to record

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Display of sound effect objects

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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.

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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.

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Lab stuff

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I love the wooden bucket

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Dan checking out the inventory

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Peeling labels and unmarked bottles

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Test tube racks, scale pan and weight

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More chemicals!!!

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Soxhlet extractor

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Up close and personal

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More stuff that Dan and Aaron know all about

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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.

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Dan explaining how the Soxhlet Extractor works

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She was very bright and caught on right away

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Glassware in the cases

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Fancy glassware

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Really fancy glassware

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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.

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Woodworking lab

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Dan holds up a lump of coal. I think I know what I’m getting for Christmas

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Sign showing the Great Fire of 1914

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Main lab building, with production building in the background

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Tracks to move the Black Maria – to follow the sun during filming

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Tell me what you think! I want to know!