The park, which is located in West Orange, New Jersey, includes Thomas Edison’s laboratory complex and his Glenmont mansion. I didn’t get to see the mansion, which frankly was less interesting to me (although I hear it features such novelties as a remotely-switched electrically-heated birdbath). Instead, I decided to focus my tour on the laboratories:
The remaining laboratory buildings are actually only a small part of what used to be a huge industrial factory and research center that spanned several blocks. Only a few of the original structures remain, the rest having been sold off and destroyed to make way for new development.
Before I forget: This is not where Edison invented the light bulb. Or the phonograph. This is where Edison refined his original phonograph into a commercially viable product, developed the kinetoscope and several other motion picture devices, and developed Nickel-iron-alkaline storage batteries that powered early electric vehicles, among may other things. Many of Edison’s early inventions were developed in his Menlo Park laboratory in what is now called Edison, NJ.
With that out of the way, back to the tour…
I last visited here over 20 years ago with my grandfather, and while my memories are fuzzy, I do not remember the facilities being in this condition. This is likely because the complex has seen significant restoration work in recent years. Just outside the chemistry lab, there is a small square on one wall that is still in unrestored condition:
In one corner, a cubic foot of copper, a gift from a group of mining and smelting companies, who were no doubt overjoyed by the success of Edison’s electric lighting system and other inventions.
Moving on, I next visited the storeroom, home to not only tools but also samples of hundreds if not thousands of natural materials. It is reported that this storeroom contains everything from a tortoise shell and elephant hide to “the eyeballs of a US senator”:
Another room upstairs housed a recording studio for what was likely the world’s first record company. It is amusing to think that records were being recorded right next to an active machine shop, but apparently the sensitivity of early recording devices was so low that they did not pick up background noise.
Back outside, here is the Black Maria, Edison’s famous motion picture recording studio. The first studio of its kind, the roof opens and the entire building can be rotated to capture the maximum amount of outside light, which was required by early movie cameras:
This concluded my tour. There are many more photos of the laboratory complex in this flickr set. And if you are ever in the area, I highly recommend paying a visit to this historic site.