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Thomas Edison's Laboratory: A New Jersey Family Day Trip!

Updated on November 5, 2014

Thomas Edison in New Jersey: Explore the World's First Industrial Research Laboratory!

The Thomas Edison laboratory in New Jersey is a great family day trip. Edison was the inventor of the first practical electric bulb, the motion picture camera and the phonograph, but some say his greatest achievement was the creation of the industrial research and development laboratory. He built a complex of laboratories and workshops in West Orange, New Jersey, aimed at inventing and making new things. In his heyday Edison had 150 people working in those labs with 10,000 employees in surrounding factories pumping out his inventions. The laboratory has now been turned into the Thomas Edison National Historical Park and it's a great day out. My family and I toured the park just a few weeks ago, and here is some highlights of our visit.

Thomas Edison National Park Stockroom
Thomas Edison National Park Stockroom

Edison's Office and the Stockroom

10,000 Books, a Bed and a Tortoise Shell!

We started our self-guided tour of the laboratory complex in Edison's library/office, a three-story room with more than 10,000 books and magazines containing all the scientific and engineering knowledge of the time. The office also had information on patents to make sure he wasn't duplicating someone else's efforts. The office, trimmed with stained southern yellow pine, looks more like a library than a real office.

In the room is Edison's desk, left exactly as it was on his last day of work in 1931. We noticed that one of the slots on his desk is labeled ''New Ideas.'' Even at 84 he was still trying to invent!

Tucked in one corner was a small bed that was put there at the urging of his wife. The park ranger tells me Edison was known to simply stretch out on a table to nap when he was tired, and he rarely ever used the bed!

Next is the well-supplied stockroom. Edison wanted his workers to have access to almost everything they could possibly need while trying to invent, and the room had everything from needles and toothpicks to sledgehammers, elephant hides and a rhinoceros horn! Note in the photo I took that a tortoise shell is hanging on the cabinet!

Thomas Edison National Park Machine Shop
Thomas Edison National Park Machine Shop

Machine Shops and a Beheading!

Watch Some Early Edison Movies!

The next room is the heavy machine shop, where workers would produce prototypes of the new inventions being created. About halfway down the room are three machines that made early phonograph records. Continuing up the stairs we see the precision shop, where the more-experienced employees worked on pieces that needed to be more carefully made. On this floor the motion picture camera was invented.

The shops were dangerous, and the audio guide tells us that under the labor law of the time if a worker was maimed or killed there was no compensation! The law only required that the company return the worker's tools to his family!

About midway down the room there's a screen showing some of Edison's earliest films, from the 1890s. ''The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots'' from 1895 recreates a beheading realistically enough that I imagine early filmgoers probably gasped when they saw it!

Thomas Edison National Park Recording Studio
Thomas Edison National Park Recording Studio

Edison's Private Lab and the Recording Studio!

When Irish Eyes are Smiling!

We next find Room 12, which was Edison's own private lab and favorite room to experiment in. There's a great photo of him mixing some liquids in test tubes with chemical powders staining both knees of his suit pants!

Upstairs on the third floor we reach the music room, which was one of the world's first recording studios. Singers and musicians would travel here from New York to record using giant horns to focus the music onto cylinders. A park ranger gives us a demonstration of an early phonograph recording of ``When Irish Eyes are Smiling'' and explains that Edison didn't do so well in the music business once discs replaced cylinders for two reasons. First, his machines used diamond needles so they were more expensive than rival's, and second, Edison tended to only record what he liked rather than what was popular!

In the photo are some of the horns that were used to make the recordings.

Thomas Edison Doll
Thomas Edison Doll

The Phonograph and the Talking Doll

Thomas Edison's Successes and Failures

After the recording studio is a long display of the numerous phonographs that Edison developed, from an early recording telegraph from 1877 to one from 1927. I have read that Edison said the phonograph was his favorite invention, and a park ranger said that was because it worked on the first try. Just to be clear -- the phonograph wasn't invented in this lab. Edison had perfected it when he was working in Menlo Park, New Jersey, to the south of West Orange.

The third floor then gives way to exhibits of the many products and inventions that are associated with Edison, from early General Electric Christmas lights to Portland Cement to storage batteries and on and on. Plan to spend some time in this area, because it really is neat to see the breadth of things he worked on.

One thing to seek out is an early talking doll that he tried to market in 1899 (see photo). About 3,000 of the dolls were made but they were simply too fragile to be successful. The sound quality is pretty bad too. You can push a button and hear a recording of what the doll said, and the tone of the voice sounds pretty creepy. Edison himself later said, ``The voices of the little monsters were exceedingly unpleasant to hear.''

"Grand science, chemistry. I like it best of all the sciences''

Thomas Edison Lab
Thomas Edison Lab

Thomas Edison's Chemistry Lab

Edison's Search for Domestic Rubber

Across from the main building is the chemistry laboratory, which is only open for guided tours. The park ranger said it was considered the world's finest when it opened in 1887, and chemists from around the globe lobbied to work there.

Inside there are rows of test tubes and chemicals lined up exactly as they were when the complex closed after Edison's death in 1931, and it was here that Edison was striving to complete one last great invention before his death.

Henry Ford, the automaker, and Harvey Firestone, the tiremaker, sponsored Edison's search for a domestic source of rubber after World War I. Edison worked on trying to create a domestic rubber from goldenrod, and in the lab there are several examples of what he developed. The park ranger said the Edison rubber wasn't durable enough, though it was used in seat cushions and some other products. The development of synthetic rubber and Edison's death ended the goldenrod experiments.

In the rear of the chemistry lab are scales that the park ranger said are so sensitive they can measure the weight of ink in a signature on a piece of paper. She said some scientists have said the Edison scales are more sensitive than many modern ones.

The tour only takes 15-20 minutes but is well worthwhile.

Thomas Edison Movie Studio Black Maria
Thomas Edison Movie Studio Black Maria

The First Movie Studio and Great Train Robbery

Also, Preparing for Nazi Attacks!

Also on site is a replica of Edison's 1893 movie studio, which is considered the world's first. Dubbed the ``Black Maria,'' the studio was built on wheels with a roof that opened. This enabled the movie-makers to turn the building to capture the sun all day long!

Edison moved his movie production to New York City in 1901 and the studio was demolished in 1903. The building that you see in the photo is actually a 1954 replica.

You can also stand on a large cement vault that stored many of Edison's most important papers and items during World War II, when there was concern that Nazi saboteurs might damage the site.

Inside the entrance building is a film about Edison, and if you don't know much about him it'll give you a good overview of his life. In between showings Edison's 1903 film ``The Great Train Robbery'' is shown. It's a true classic!

There are a few other rooms in the main building to look at, and your ticket to the park also includes a tour of Edison's house Glenmont just down the road from the laboratory. I saw it suggested that three hours was enough for a visit, though I'm not so sure about that. I know we were there almost four, counting the house tour, and felt like we could have stayed longer. We'll just have to make another visit!

(The photo here is of the ``Black Maria,'' taken from on top of the cement vault.)

Thomas Edison's House Glenmont!

Right Down The Street From the Laboratory!

Thomas Edison lived in a mansion only a few minutes' drive from his laboratory complex, and today the house is part of the historical park. One admission gets you into both places. You buy your tickets at the laboratory visitor center and get a timed ticket for the house tour. It is very easy to see both places in one day, and well worth while. I wrote a separate lens about the house tour, so please visit it here:

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

For More Information See the Official Website

I haven't included everything there is to say about a visit to the park, so please visit the Park Service's site below for more information, including operating hours, fees and daily activities. Thanks!

Planning to Visit the Thomas Edison National Historical Park?

Thomas Edison Room 12
Thomas Edison Room 12

I wrote this lens after a visit to Edison's laboratory. Have you ever visited the national park, or do you plan to? If yes, what did you think? If no, why not?

Have You Ever Been to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park?

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We have used Hotels.com to book our recent vacations, and haven't had a problem yet. You do have to spend a bit of time reading the reviews to make sure the hotel you select is exactly what you want, of course. Sometimes a good price just means that the hotel has had a lot of poor reviews and has dropped what it charges to attract customers!

One other bit of good news is that you get a free night's stay after booking 10 nights. The freebie has to be on a subsequent trip, but it has helped us save money. Check out Hotels.com today:

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I hope this review will lead people to visit the Thomas Edison National Historical Park because I found it an inspiration. Please let me know what you think of this lens, Thomas Edison or anything else I mentioned in here. Thanks for reading!

Did This Review Make You Want to Visit? - Here's Your Chance to Speak!

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    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      Yes it did. It's interesting to see what research labs were like ages ago.

    • RobertConnorIII profile image

      Robert Connor 3 years ago from Michigan

      Looks like fun!

    • profile image

      JacobSmith01 3 years ago

      Great, informative lens once again. The labor law in the machine shop at the time seemed really harsh. Don't understand the use their loved ones would have in getting their tools back, other than selling them. Glad the labor law's have changed today! I could just image what his dolls would sound like⦠I still remember chucky⦠I'm sure it would have freaked a lot of kids out!

    • BrianRS profile image

      Brian Stephens 3 years ago from France

      I studied Thomas Edison during my technology degree and he certainly was the founder of innovation processes. Whatever it was he started to develop or invent, his intention was to make it a commercial product and that is really what sets him aside from other inventors of his time. I think the laboratories you visited illustrate that point. Very interesting lens.

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 3 years ago from GRENADA

      Most definitely, goldenrulecomics! Thomas Edison is a fascinating personality. Still inventing at 84 tells you he had a very sharp mind. This tour was fascinating though I will have to do it in person some day. Thanks for sharing.

    • sharonbellis profile image

      Sharon Bellissimo 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Great info, history is so fascinating and excursions like these are better than lying on a beach!

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 4 years ago

      This would be a great place to learn many things and see :)

    • MrAusAdventure profile image

      Bill 4 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      Looks like a really interesting place to visit! A bit far away for me though, perhaps someday!

    • profile image

      marsha32 4 years ago

      I would love a chance to visit

    • weakbond profile image

      Nnadi bonaventure Chima 4 years ago from Johanesburg

      He is really an inspiration to many considering how many times he failed

    • TerriCarr profile image

      TerriCarr 4 years ago

      I think I am only a couple of hours away so I will probably get there at some point. I like Edison's philosophy of doing all that we are capable of.

    • Max Globe profile image

      Max Globe 4 years ago

      Interesting lens!

    • Stephen Lewis profile image

      Stephen Lewis 4 years ago

      Yes. The day I was there it was closed.

    • profile image

      adianty-lili 4 years ago

      yes, hope can visit this historical park

    • MelanieKaren profile image

      Melanie Wilcox 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Lorelei Cohen: I know exactly what you mean, and I completely agree!

    • RHKnight profile image

      RHKnight 4 years ago

      Congrats on LoD, I remember this lens, great job.

    • profile image

      Davinahenry145 4 years ago

      I recently came across your article topic and have been reading along.So nice for visiting family celebration.You can also visit about Yoga exercises.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thomas Edison was a brilliant man. The trip looks like it is well worth the effort. Congratulations on getting LotD!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      I saw Edison's work area in Florida, so it would be great to see this one too. Congrats on Lens of the Day!

    • Diaper Bag Blog profile image

      Stanley Green 4 years ago from Czech Republic

      Thomas Edison was indeed a great man... I love some of his quotes, like "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." :)

    • Angelina Gherna profile image

      Angelina 4 years ago from California

      I love the photos of his lab.

    • kju385 profile image

      kju385 4 years ago

      Fascinating man, fascinating lens :)

    • graysquidooer profile image

      graysquidooer 4 years ago

      I never knew Thomas Edison was so industrious and still inventing at 84!

      Thank you fro this very informative lens

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 4 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Well deserved LotD. Such interesting information. I would love to visit though I'm on the other coast. It does make me want to learn more about Edison. Thanks for sharing this.

    • profile image

      MarcellaCarlton 4 years ago

      Yes, but I live on the West Coast. Nevertheless I enjoyed your incredible lens.

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 4 years ago

      This is so cool, I visited when I was in Middle School and now I want to go back with my daughters. Great interesting and informative lens.

    • Jackowacko LM profile image

      Jackowacko LM 4 years ago

      It's been a very interesting man, who achieved a lot in his life. I wonder what he would say when he looks at the world right now.

    • profile image

      Vantis 4 years ago

      One of the most iconic individuals who ever lived. He worked together a while with the famous philosopher - businessman Napoleon Hill, the creator of the "Think and Grow Rich" books. Nice lens.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 4 years ago

      What a great lens. I would love to see Thomas Edison's museum but it's unlikely I will now ever cross the Atlantic. Sounds like a really interesting visit. Wonder if the place was as tidy whenever people were working there? LOL

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 4 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Very interesting and informative, I've learned some things here that I didn't know. Thanks for the wonderful tour, and Congratulations on LOTD, Thanks Again

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 4 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      A fascinating insight into what made these great men think. Here in Nova Scotia we have the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, another of the great inventors of that era. They both seemed to collect what others would call junk and make incredible products from it! Well done on the LOTD.

    • profile image

      PriyabrataSingh 4 years ago

      Great lens, Nobody will forget the man who have shown us the light in the dark night. I'm definitely going to visit it. Thanks for sharing. Many congratulations on been selected for the Lens Of The Day.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Sounds Like an Amazing Place to visit..

    • chrisilouwho profile image

      chrisilouwho 4 years ago

      that sounds like a fantastic trip, thanks for sharing it with us! Congrats!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Really Great piece of information.. Thanks for sharing

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      thanks for sharing, congrats on LOTD :D

      i wish i could go there one day tooo

    • winter aconite profile image

      winter aconite 4 years ago

      WOW, would love to visit!!!!! Thanks for sharing!

    • MelanieKaren profile image

      Melanie Wilcox 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      wonderful lens! I'll be moving back to PA soon. Now, I'm definitely going to go. I didn't realize his lab was in Jersey. thanks!

    • DANCING COWGIRL profile image

      Dancing Cowgirl Design 4 years ago from Texas

      This sounds like an amazing place to visit. Thnaks for the mini tour by sharing your trip.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 4 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Absolutely! What a great family day trip this must have been! Enjoyed the read very much and the photos too! I would have loved to have seen what was in the stock room especially. :)

    • leatherwooddesign profile image

      Marisa Horn 4 years ago from Rintown Pa

      Very informative lens.

    • Lorelei Cohen profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      Oh that was like walking into my perfect dream office. I love those old desks with all the little pockets and drawers also the tiny glass bottles....my heart feels like it has gone to heaven surrounded by that stuff. I would love to visit there.

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 4 years ago from West Virginia

      It was interesting reading about the man, Thomas Edison, and finding out that he invented more than light bulbs.

    • gina1209 profile image

      Gina Valley 4 years ago from Arizona

      I want to go! Great lens with lots of great info.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Oh yes, you've done a great job piquing my interest in seeing more. Loved the tour!

    • profile image

      Noveliaa 5 years ago

      Excellent lens! Squidlike

    • dragonlildragon profile image

      dragonlildragon 5 years ago

      This is an awesome lens.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 5 years ago from USA

      Haven't been up that way in some time, maybe one day I'll ge back there.

    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 5 years ago

      Yes!!

    • spikeyflower profile image

      spikeyflower 5 years ago

      Definitely makes me want to visit. I enjoyed the Henry Ford Museum a lot, so I think I will like to go see this park.

    • goldenrulecomics profile image
      Author

      goldenrulecomics 5 years ago

      @happynutritionist: What a coincidence -- we were there for the weekend as well! We stayed in Ronks...

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 5 years ago

      Really must make a visit...we were just in Lancaster PA where the Amish don't use electricity and in a shop owned by an Amish man saw a beautiful crank record player (not sure of the formal name) by Edison...the price was so good too!

    • profile image

      GentlemenGogoVEVO 5 years ago

      fantastic!

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 5 years ago from East Central Florida

      The Thomas Edison National Historical Park sounds like a place I could spent a day at! But, for now, maybe I will try to plaln a trip to his winter home in Ft. Myers

    • Image Girl profile image

      Image Girl 5 years ago

      Finally got some time to read this lens all the way through! Absolutely greatandso much fun! Thank you for sharing this. It really makes me want to visit some of these places. Bravo!

    • goldenrulecomics profile image
      Author

      goldenrulecomics 6 years ago

      @SquidooPower: Yes, it is! In fact, I just revisited the place today! Thanks for stopping by!

    • SquidooPower profile image

      SquidooPower 6 years ago

      Everyone should go here by the way, it's awesome

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      I was very excited to find your website, as I have written quite a lot about Edison on http://wizzley.com/a-collectable-phonogram/ and I will not only add a link to your article, but also shower Angel Blessings on your head.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 6 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Thomas Edison was an amazing inventor, born at the right time I am sure. Sometimes I wonder if these inventors had not been around in the right place at the right time, how long it might have been before their inventions would have been realized by others. I would really like to visit his laboratory, sounds like a good day trip. Nicely done, blessed.

    • goldenrulecomics profile image
      Author

      goldenrulecomics 6 years ago

      @Phillyfreeze: wow! I didn't know about the house in Louisville! I'd love to see it someday. Thanks for visiting my lens.

    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      I have visted the Thomas Edison House located at 729 East Washington Street, Louisville, KY 40202-1050 (502) 585 -5247. A young 19 year old Thomas came to Louisville in 1866 to work as a telegrapher for Western Union.

      I would love to visit the Thomas Edison Ntional Historical Park in the future.

    • iWriteaLot profile image

      iWriteaLot 6 years ago

      ``To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.'' Love it! Interesting lens. I'd like to hear one of those dolls. Does it sound like The Bride of Chuckie?

    • glenbrook profile image

      glenbrook 6 years ago

      If I ever make it back east I will definitely visit. Great lens:)

    • profile image

      Pete Schultz 6 years ago

      Your lens makes me wat to visit.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Nice article.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 6 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Yes, this lens certainly made me interested in visiting. Thanks for the information. blessed