Visiting Thomas Alva Edison's laboratories

West Orange Travel Blog

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The outside of the labs

When I worked as a chemist I was in laboratories all the time. People often ask me if I miss that. And to be honest, yes in a certain way I do! I would even pay to be given the opportunity to prepare a nice catalyst again (for a day or so). Today I was in a laboratory once more. Not as a chemist, I was not allowed to touch anything, but as a tourist. It was not a normal laboratory it was the famous laboratory of Thomas Alva Edison in West Orange New Jersey.

I had visited Edison's residence, about two years ago, see here. His beautiful mansion is managed by the National Parks Service. At that time they were busy restoring the nearby located old laboratories which were opened in 2009.

Inorganic chemistry
By that time US congress redesignated the site as a National Historic Park.

The laboratories are nicely restored and kept as much as they were in Edison's time, when they offered a job to many people. The site was a base to all kind of activities, metallurgy, physics, chemistry, photography, etc. The site also housed a construction site in which Edison produced his products like cameras and of course his famous phonographs. And, the site was home to the world's very first movie studio, the Black Maria! This was a mini studio on rails with a roof that could be opened. The rails allowed the building to be rotated in such a way that the sun always shined on the set. (Powerful studio lamps did not exist by then!)

When I entered the historic site I could immediately join a ranger led tour to the old chemistry lab, a lab that in Edison's time belonged to one of the most modern laboratories in the world.

An "old fashioned" (l) and a "modern" (r) phonograph
There was still an impressive collection of inorganic compounds present. And of course in those beautiful old fashioned jars.

The other parts of the site were even more impressive. The huge construction hall #5, where the Edison products were produced, looked like one had just left for a lunch break. The top floor of the building looked completely different. Instead of the huge machinery I encountered pianos and carpets. This used to be the recording studio where singers and musicians came to record the cylinders that could be played by the Edison Phonographs.

Building 5 also housed the private library of Edison. This magnificent place housed all his books, of course, but also his many prizes, honors and awards. Edison welcomed his guest here. The library contains a mystery. The clock above the fireplace stopped in the night Edison died at more or less the time he died.

The recording studio, then and now
Nobody claims to have stopped the mechanism, but it hasn't move ever since.

One more funny thing. Edison, who did not have an university degree found that people applying for a job at his laboratories needed to have some basic general knowledge. So he developed a test every applicant had to take. The funny thing is that both his son, who graduated at the MIT as well as Albert Einstein both failed the test..... Try the test yourself here! My score: 4 errors. (Click on the answer you choose to see if it is correct.)

I, of course, ran out of time and had to rush too much. I left the premises as one of the last visitors. I think I'll need to come back some day.

More pictures below!

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The outside of the labs
The outside of the labs
Inorganic chemistry
Inorganic chemistry
An old fashioned (l) and a mode…
An "old fashioned" (l) and a "mod…
The recording studio, then and now
The recording studio, then and now
The gatekeepers house
The gatekeeper's house
The gatekeepers house
The gatekeeper's house
The outside of the labs
The outside of the labs
Inorganic chemistry
Inorganic chemistry
Inorganic chemistry
Inorganic chemistry
Inorganic chemistry
Inorganic chemistry
The Edison Chemistry Laboratory
The Edison Chemistry Laboratory
This water tower was installed aft…
This water tower was installed af…
The outside of the labs
The outside of the labs
A replica of the Black Maria, the …
A replica of the Black Maria, the…
Edisons Library
Edison's Library
Edisons Library
Edison's Library
The workshed, had everythibg. Even…
The workshed, had everythibg. Eve…
The workshed
The workshed
The construction floor
The construction floor
The recording studio
The recording studio
The trumpets used as microphone…
The "trumpets" used as "microphon…
The photo lab, then and now
The photo lab, then and now
Payroll administration
Payroll administration
West Orange
photo by: mdalamers