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Thomas Edison House Glenmont: A New Jersey Family Day Trip!

Updated on December 22, 2018

Thomas Edison's Home in New Jersey is a Glimpse Into the Great Inventor's Life!

Thomas Edison, one of America's greatest inventors, lived for more than four decades in a 29-room mansion called Glenmont in the exclusive Llewellyn Park neighborhood of West Orange, New Jersey, a short distance from the laboratory complex where he did most of his inventing.The house is open to guided tours, and it's a great chance to see what home life must have been like for the world-famous Edison and his family. Here are some highlights from a recent visit to Glenmont by our family.

UPDATE: On a return visit I was finally able to see the inside of Thomas Edison's garage, so please scroll down for new details and photos on his cars!

Thomas Edison's House in New Jersey
Thomas Edison's House in New Jersey

Thomas Edison Buys an Embezzler's Home!

Chosen By His Second Wife

The tour of the house begins at the front door (naturally!) and the park ranger who is our guide tells us that the red brick and wood mansion was built in 1880 by a clerk who had embezzled the money to pay for it! designed by architect Henry Hudson Holly, the house is in the American Queen Anne style that was popular at that time.

Edison bought the house in 1886 for $125,000, less than half what it cost to build, after the clerk was forced to give up the house when he was caught. It was a wedding gift to his second wife. Edison's first wife had died and when he remarried he gave his wife the choice of a home in the country or an apartment in New York City. The ranger says the young bride Mina, knowing that Edison was a workaholic, chose a house in the country because she knew that otherwise she'd never see her husband!

Thomas Edison Biographies - An Inventor's Life

Thomas Edison led a fascinating life as an inventor (he held 1,093 patents when he died). The phonograph and the incandescent light bulb are only two of the everyday things he developed, and he spent the vast majority of his life looking into new ways and things that could benefit mankind. I have always found him very inspiring, and I'm sure you would too. Here are some biographies of the inventor if you want to know more about him.

Animal Rugs and Stained Glass Windows

The Upper Class Life of Edison

Inside the home the first thing you notice is a large stained glass window on the balcony straight ahead depicting Penelope awaiting Ulysses' return from the Greek mythology. The ranger explains that the stuffed animal heads and rugs came with the house and that Edison himself wasn't a hunter.

Off to one side is the library filled with rows and rows of books, many of them fiction that had been popular during Edison's time. Edison never read them, our guide tells us, because he considered fiction a waste of time! As you tour the ground floor you get the sense that the Edisons lived what would be a classic upper-class lifestyle, with Mina entertaining ladies for tea. There's a large semi-circular drawing room with windows that could be taken out during the summer, but that was heated to care for the houseplants during the winter.

The photo here is from a collection taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey of the National Park Service. Taken in 1963, the photo is in the public domain according to my reading of the HABS website.

Thomas Edison Living Room
Thomas Edison Living Room

Edison's 'Think Desk' and Bedroom

Playing Parcheesi with the Children

Upstairs, it is interesting to note that Edison's bedroom wasn't the largest in the house. (The biggest was reserved for the many house guests that came to visit). Instead, the Edisons preferred a smaller one that had larger windows because Mina loved bird watching and that room had the best views of the grounds. Edison died in this bed in 1931 at age 84.

According to the national park some of the overnight guests included Orville Wright, Helen Keller and Henry Ford. Our guide tells us that the King of Siam visited the Edisons but didn't stay in the mansion because there wasn't enough space for his large entourage!

Edison had six children, three with each wife. The children's bedrooms that we saw were nice and probably very appropriate for the age, but not very memorable. More interesting is the upstairs family room, where Edison had his ''think desk.'' As a notorious workaholic, he would often excuse himself from parties and guests by saying he wasn't feeling well then retire to this upstairs room to work on his latest creation.

Our guide points out a Parcheesi game all set up to play. Edison liked to play with his children, but wasn't above bending the rules on occasion to make sure he won!

The photo is from a collection taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey of the National Park Service. Taken in 1963, the photo is in the public domain according to my reading of the HABS website.

Thomas Edison Dining Room
Thomas Edison Dining Room

The Grand Servants' Area

An Area Where Edison Probably Never Ventured

The tour goes down the back stairs to the servants' work area, consisting of the kitchen, laundry room and servants dining room. It's neat to look at all the old-fashioned laundry and kitchen gadgets and equipment, knowing that they were probably the latest technology available in those days.

But the real surprise is the room where the servants ate and could relax while waiting for the bell that called them to service. It's a very nicely appointed room, with its own phonograph and piano, and looks more like the main room of a middle-class apartment than a servants' area. The guide tells us that Edison believed servants should be well treated and well paid, and I believe it. I do find it hard to accept the guide's assurance that neither Thomas or Mina probably ever ventured into these quarters. It seems like such an odd way of life.

The dining room could seat 30 people, and judging from the silverware that is shown they were certainly treated grandly as well.The pan and brush used to clear crumbs off the table alone probably cost more than the servants' made in a year! The Edisons lived under Victorian rules, which meant that the children had their own table to one side to eat at. Also, be sure to check out the wonderful Tiffany lamp!

The inside tour ends in a den that Mina turned into a mini-showcase for some of her husband's inventions after his death. It's neat to see some of the equipment sitting among the plush chairs and curtains of the day. Make sure the tour guide tells you the surprising story of the room's ceiling!

This photo of the dining room looking toward the den is from a collection taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey of the National Park Service. Taken in 1963, the photo is in the public domain according to my reading of the HABS website.

Thomas Edison Greenhouse
Thomas Edison Greenhouse

The Greenhouse

Buy Some of Edison's Plants!

After the tour of the house you can wander some of the estate's 13.5 acres, including the family greenhouses and potting shed (built in 1909).

The greenhouse area apparently was much larger when the Edisons were alive, with roses, orchids, snapdragons and many other plants and flowers being grown. What is left didn't strike me as anything special, butt one nice thing is that there are plants for sale. Something Edison's greenhouse would be a great souvenir or gift for someone!

Thomas Edison's Words to Live By

Thomas Edison believed very strongly in the power of perseverance, as evident in his famous response when someone suggested he failed after numerous attempts to develop the light bulb: ''I have not failed. I just found ten thousand ways that won't work.''

I have also heard the quote with the simple ''one thousand,'' but that doesn't matter. It's still a great philosophy about never giving up.

Thomas Edison Garage
Thomas Edison Garage

Thomas Edison's Garage

The Yankee Stadium Connection!

The garage was closed during our third visit to Glenmont, as it had been the other two times we were there. At the end of the house tour I mentioned that to the park ranger at the home's front door, and he was kind enough to say he'd walk our group down for a very fast visit!

Inside the garage were several cars that belonged to Edison, including early electric versions that he was trying hard to commercialize (mainly because they would be powered by his Edison batteries. The guy was a businessman after all.)

The electric cars never caught on, in part because they needed charging too often and because gasoline at the time was much cheaper. The ranger also said the price tag of a 1914 electric car was $2,500, compared to $500 for a Model T. That alone would make the electric versions a tough sell.

The floor of the garage had a turntable that would help park the cars, but it had been damaged during a prank by one of Edison's sons and so doesn't work anymore.

One thing that is interesting to note is that both the garage and the potting shed were built with the Portland cement that Edison was developing to showcase his belief that concrete houses were the future. Unfortunately, the molds he used were too complex so the housebuilding was never a viable business (there are some sample concrete homes in Union, New Jersey, built using Edison's methods.)

By the way, the cement business was never one of Edison's most profitable ones, and is mainly remembered for having provided the material for the original Yankee Stadium in the 1920s.

The Cars in Thomas Edison's Garage! - 100-Year-Old Electric Cars!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This miniature car, which can be seen from the garage's window even when the place is shut, doesn't have anything to do with Thomas Edison. A nearby resident has lent it to the park service, and the rangers take it out once in a while for children toThe middle car in the rear row was a 1914 electric-powered vehicle. The seating arrangement was such that the driver was in the back seat, and it was spacious enough that a person could stand up inside. The car to the left in the row is an earlier elThis is a 1936 Brewster, which was owned by Thomas Edison's son Charles Edison. The son served as New Jersey's governor from 1941-1944.
This miniature car, which can be seen from the garage's window even when the place is shut, doesn't have anything to do with Thomas Edison. A nearby resident has lent it to the park service, and the rangers take it out once in a while for children to
This miniature car, which can be seen from the garage's window even when the place is shut, doesn't have anything to do with Thomas Edison. A nearby resident has lent it to the park service, and the rangers take it out once in a while for children to
The middle car in the rear row was a 1914 electric-powered vehicle. The seating arrangement was such that the driver was in the back seat, and it was spacious enough that a person could stand up inside. The car to the left in the row is an earlier el
The middle car in the rear row was a 1914 electric-powered vehicle. The seating arrangement was such that the driver was in the back seat, and it was spacious enough that a person could stand up inside. The car to the left in the row is an earlier el
This is a 1936 Brewster, which was owned by Thomas Edison's son Charles Edison. The son served as New Jersey's governor from 1941-1944.
This is a 1936 Brewster, which was owned by Thomas Edison's son Charles Edison. The son served as New Jersey's governor from 1941-1944.
Thomas Edison Grave
Thomas Edison Grave

Edison's Final Resting Place

A Simple Grave for a Great Man!

A short distance from the year of the house are the final resting places of Thomas and Mina Edison.

Edison was first buried in a nearby cemetery after his 1931 death, with Mina continuing to live in the house until she died in 1947 and was laid to rest beside him. The two were moved to their current graves in 1963.

The gravestones are quite plain and simple, and if you are running short of time they can be skipped.

Thomas Edison's Laboratory

The Famous Research and Development Complex

Glenmont is one half of the national park in West Orange, with Edison's laboratory complex being the other half. It is easy to see everything in one day, and one admission price covers both. I wrote about our laboratory visit in a separate lens, and I hope you check it out!

Thomas Edison's Laboratory: A New Jersey Family Day Trip!
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Have You Toured Thomas Edison's Home?

Have You Ever Been to Glenmont?

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My family and I really enjoyed our tour of Edison's home. Have you ever visited Glenmont, or do you plan to? If yes, what did you think? If no, why not?

More Information On Thomas Edison and Glenmont - To Help Plan Your Visit!

Here are some websites that have more information about Thomas Edison, the park and Glenmont to help you plan your visit.

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