We’re Off to See the Wizard…

Eighty-four years can seem like a long time… time enough to accomplish one’s life goals. However, what if those decades were filled with invention and a ceaseless drive to create machines and tools destined to make the lives of human beings easier? What if one’s many inventions helped to create the fields of electric utilities, sound recordings, motion pictures, as well as a voting machine, the stock ticker, the car battery, a telephone microphone design that would be used for almost one hundred years… and all of this without mentioning the greatest invention, the incandescent light bulb. On a warm day in late May, I set off to explore a National Park focused on one man’s life work.

Thomas Edison was born in Ohio in 1847, but his success came when he moved to New Jersey. His first research facility was in Menlo Park, approximately 30 miles southwest of New York City. Menlo Park would be the location of many of Edison’s most famous inventions, including the light bulb, leading to his nickname “The Wizard of Menlo Park.” After his first wife died in 1884, Edison moved to West Orange, New Jersey, and established a new laboratory there. The new lab operated for four decades before becoming a museum, which would ultimately be given to the National Park Service (via Wikipedia). In operation for over 60 years, Thomas Edison National Historic Park provides visitors with a window into the life of an accomplished inventor and New Jersey resident.

Before beginning this week’s photo essay, however, a culinary recommendation is in order:

Map of Connecticut, with a red pin in Food Truck Paradise in New Haven.
Over the past year, whenever I’ve driven from New Jersey to Massachusetts, I passed a collection of food trucks in New Haven, Connecticut, parked along a pier near I-95.
Food trucks at Food Truck Paradise.
I did some internet research, and found out that this is Food Truck Paradise! Established two years ago on Long Wharf in New Haven, this location is specifically designed to attract food trucks… and hungry diners.
Food trucks at Food truck Paradise. The truck nearest to the camera has a menu of Mexican food items on its side.
Driving with my fiancee from Massachusetts to New Jersey, we stopped to check it out! We had tacos, quesadillas, hot dogs… but the single best item we tried was the Venezuelan arepa from the “Ay Que Rico!” food truck. I can best describe an arepa is a sandwich made between two pieces of fried corn dough. Ours had pulled pork, fried plantains, black beans, cheese, and avocado. Sadly, we finished the arepa before a picture could be taken.
Panorama of the New Haven Harbor.
Food Truck Paradise sits between I-95 and the New Haven Harbor. If you are going to stop here to eat, be prepared to either eat in your car, or do as we did and sit on a guardrail while traffic zooms past. There are very few benches and tables.
Map of Thomas Edison National Historic Park, in northern New Jersey.
Located in West Orange, New Jersey, approximately 18 miles west of New York City, my destination was Thomas Edison National Historic Park.
2012 Honda Accord coupe parked near sign for Thomas Edison National Historical Park.
Arrived!
Guardhouse and entrance to the Museum.
The main entrance to the museum. When this was operating as a laboratory, workers and guests would enter through this gate. Like Willie Wonka, Edison erected fencing around his factory to keep out the prying eyes of competitors.
Photo of buildings in the laboratory complex.
The main laboratory (right) and chemistry lab (left) are what greet your eyes as you walk through the gate.
Interior of the Chemistry Lab. Machines and bottles fill the tables in the lab.
Checking in with the park rangers in the Visitors Center, I was told to hurry to the chemistry lab, which would be closing in five minutes. The ranger in the lab was kind enough to let me take as many photos as I wanted before she locked up the building.
Bottles on shelves in the chemistry lab.
I asked the ranger if what I was seeing were reproductions of equipment used in the lab by Edison. She informed me that everything you see in the lab was actively used by Edison’s employees.
Interior of the pattern shop. Tools are on the tables, and a ladder is in the middle of the room.
The Pattern Shop, where models were made before inventions would be mass-produced. My fiancee had suggested I visit the museum on a weekday, as it gets busy on the weekend. She was right – I had the museum almost entirely to myself.
Time card machine for employees of Edison Laboratory.
Entering the museum, I came across this time card system that Edison Laboratory employees would use to clock in and out of the lab.
Edison Laboratory library, with a large statue on the ground floor of a three-level room.
The first room you enter is the library – three levels of books about inventions, as well as patent records. Edison used this space as his personal office.
Heavy machine shop, with machines in rows across the room.
The Heavy Machine Shop. The machines in this room were used to create the machines that would build the new inventions in factories.
Radial Drill Press.
A radial drill press, installed between 1887-1888. According to a note I saw, this machine still works.
Precision machine shop.
The Precision Machine Shop. Like the Heavy Machine Shop, this space did not manufacture goods, but instead produced the machines that would mass-produce the inventions from the lab.
Pulley on machine in the Precision Lab.
Another view from the Precision Lab. I was fascinated by the myriad of small parts that made these large machines work.
Three phonograph players in the middle of a large room. A piano is to the left of the players.
Much of the third floor is devoted to Edison’s inventions. This room focuses on the advances in record players by Edison Labs. The three record players you see in the middle of the room each house not only the players themselves, but speakers as well.
1877 Phonograph. A sign beside it indicates it is the first phonograph.
This phonograph, from 1877, is the first record player ever made. It played back a recording of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Edison had a hearing impairment, the result of an injury suffered when he was younger, which makes his lifelong fascination with sound an interesting connection.

This video shows a 1912 record player from Edison Labs. If you notice, it plays cylindrical wax records, not the more recognizable disc-style. Disc records are easier to store and cheaper to make. Cylinder records, however, have higher quality recordings:

 

Old camera studio, with an old camera photographing a record player.
The laboratory also worked on improving photography in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Edison's Black Maria.
Edison’s “Black Maria,” one of the first movie production studios in American history. The entire building rotates to allow in optimal light for filming. This is a reproduction of the original.
Sign that reads DANGER SOUND KLAXON on a brick wall.
I spotted this sign on my way out. There were many stations for sounding alarms throughout the facility. In 1914, many buildings in the lab facility were destroyed in a fire. During WWII, leadership of the laboratory were highly concerned about German air raids targeting the facility. The threat of destruction loomed large in the minds of the laboratory managers.
Statue of Thomas Edison.
This statue of Thomas Edison sits between the Visitors Center and the Chemistry Lab.
National Park Service sign on entrance to museum.
Another excellent visit to a National Park. At this point, perhaps this blog should be called: “A Guy, His Accord, and All the National Parks.”
Odometer reading 107737 miles.
The Accord completed today’s trip with no complaint. I can’t believe this car only crossed the 100,000 mile threshold in February – it’s now closing in on 108,000!

Thomas Edison National Historical Park is a great place for visitors who want to learn more about one of the great inventors of American history, or are fascinated by the industrial revolution and technological advances. The museum focuses on the work that was done at this location. As such, you will find little of the inventions from Menlo Park (such as the light bulb), nor will you find much of his disputes with other scientists such as Nikolai Tesla. Still, it’s an excellent museum that provides a terrific overview of the work done at this famous lab. The park is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, and is $10 per adult (children under 16 can enter for free). Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.

 

 

2 thoughts on “We’re Off to See the Wizard…

  1. What a pioneer and an inspiration! And no, I’m not talking about Edison, I’m talking about the guy who invented food trucks! Haha, just kidding. Sounds like you got to see some great history in there. When I was in 8th grade, I wrote a paper on Edison and his inventions. He’s always been a bit of a hero of mine. Cool that they’ve preserved the grounds and facilities – and even cooler that some of the machines still work, well over 100 years later!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed, whoever invented the food truck should get his/her own National Park!

      Seeing a 130+ year old machine still in working order was very impressive, especially in light of our seemingly disposable approach to today’s machines. It’s broken? Toss it.

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

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