Thomas Edison National Historic Park is a Hidden Gem!
“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves”
-Thomas A. Edison
Not too long ago, we set out to find all the National Park Service parks, landmarks and monuments that were within a 100 mile radius of us. We found two gems, the Sandy Hook Light, oldest operating lighthouse in USA (more about this in another post) and the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in our state’s backyard.
Less than 30 minutes away from us in West Orange, New Jersey, stands the Thomas Edison National Historical Park. Before we can talk about the park, we really need to (briefly) discuss Thomas Edison himself.
Thomas Alva Edison
Thomas Alva Edison is most famously known for his invention of the light bulb (he improved the existing, unreliable, and expensive the light bulb) and the phonograph, but did you know that he had over 1,000 patents?!
Born in Ohio in 1847, Edison was a terrible student, so much so that he is said to have gone to school for only 12 weeks before being pulled out and home schooled by his mother, a former teacher. His love for reading grew quickly and remained one of his favorite pastimes until his death. Edison lost his ability to hear in both ears at an early age, which eventually lead to him being near deaf as an adult.
By the age of 12, Edison published his own newspaper, Grand Trunk Herald, to sell to the passengers of the Grand Trunk Railroad line. By 15, he had learned how to operate the telegraph. During the Civil War, Edison traveled the midwest as a telegrapher to take the place of those who had gone to war. He spent most of his downtime reading and experimenting. At 19, he began working for The Associated Press in Louisville, Kentucky. At the age of 22, he moved to New York City where he would develop his first invention, an improved stock ticker, the Universal Stock Printer. It synchronized several stock tickers’ transactions. The Gold and Stock Telegraph Company paid him $40,000 for the rights. This was Edison’s turning point. He quit his job as a telegrapher and immersed himself into inventing.
Here are a list of Thomas Edison’s biggest inventions that changed the world:
- electrographic vote recorder
- automatic telegraphic
- electric penphonograph
- electric lamp
- electric lighting system
- electric generator
- universal stock printer
- alkaline battery
- kinematograph (motion picture)
Edison’s major innovation was the first industrial research lab, which was built in Menlo Park, Middlesex County, New Jersey (now named Edison in his honor). Edison moved from Menlo Park after the death of his first wife and purchased a home, Glenmont, in West Orange (as a wedding gift to his second wife).
Thomas Edison passed at the age of 84 in his West Orange home, of complications of diabetes. He is buried behind the home. At the time of his death, Thomas Edison was one of the nation’s most respected and well-known American.
About the Park
For over 40 years, the West Orange laboratories produced products which would have a major impact on the lives of people around the world. The motion picture camera, improved phonographs, sound recordings, silent and sound movies and the nickel-iron alkaline electric storage battery were all invented at the West Orange laboratory.
In 1955, Edison’s home was designated as the Edison Home National Historic Site and the laboratory was designated as Edison Laboratory National Monument a year later. In 1962, the 21-acre site containing both the home and the laboratory were designated the Edison National Historic Site and overseen by the National Park Service. In 2009, after extensive renovation of the laboratory complex, the park had a grand opening and was renamed Thomas Edison National Historical Park.
The park has the largest body of Edison-related material in existence. 60-year career as an inventory, manufacturer, and businessman are contained at the museum. The collections are divided into three major sections: history artifacts (over 300,000), archives (approximately five million documents), and natural history; making it the third largest museum collection in the National Park Service.
There is so much to see at this park, that an entire day could easily be spent learning. The best part is, it offers education both from a visual and a kinetic perspective, the latter being especially important for kids. Every floor is dedicated to a type of Edison’s invention, making it easier to navigate according to interest.
Specifically for Kids
- “Be a Junior Ranger” program allows kids to explore their creativity and invention or pretend to be a representative of Thomas Edison National Historical Park to create an advertisement for the park. They can hunt for Edison’s Logo, complete the timeline and watch some early Edison movies.
- There is also a webRanger version, for anyone you would like to be a Junior Ranger but cannot make it to the park. Click here for details.
- During the 1890s, he built a magnetic iron-ore processing plant in northern New Jersey that proved to be a commercial failure. Later he was able to salvage the process into a better method for producing cement.
- He was the first person to project a motion picture, holding the world’s first motion picture screening at Koster & Bial’s Music Hall in New York City.
- Edison often napped in the library for a few hours while working nonstop on projects.
- Edison developed a storage battery that could power an electric car.
- During World War I, the U.S. Government asked Edison to head the Naval Consulting Board, Edison agreed but specified that he would only work on defensive weapons, later noting, “I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill.”
Photographs from Inside the Laboratory
Favorite Edison Quotes
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
“There is no substitute for hard work.”
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
“Waste is worse than loss. The time is coming when every person who lays claim to ability will keep the question of waste before him constantly. The scope of thrift is limitless.”
Address: 211 Main Street, West Orange, NJ 07052 | 973.736.0550 ext 11
Hours of Operation: Laboratory Complex, 10:00am-4:00pm (Wednesday – Sunday), closed Monday – Tuesday. | Glemont – Edison Home, Open Friday – Sunday during spring, summer and fall. Contact park for winter hours.
The parks are closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Admission: $10 entrance fee, $5 audio tour fee, $40 annual pass
Facilities: The main complex does have elevators to accommodate children with strollers and/or anyone with disabilities.
Have you been to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park? What did you think of it? Share below!
If you have not been, you should definitely stop by, especially if you have children. It is a wonderful learning space.
Happy and Safe Travels!
“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
– Thomas A. Edison