In a tower monument that you could easily miss, near the Menlo Park Mall, hidden uphill in a wooded area of Edison, NJ, at 37 Christie Street, the turn marked by a tiny sign (thank goodness for GPS), sits a testament to human ingenuity: Edison’s first incandescent bulb, invented in 1879 (patented 1880): The Menlo Park Museum, home of the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park.
With other more energy-efficient bulbs or lights eclipsing this once universal symbol of progress, it may soon get lost in our memory. Not wanting this to be the secret known only by school children whose districts still fund field trips, I decided to visit to see what all the fuss was once about. I once wrote about Edison’s contribution to the mechanical toy industry for the Encyclopedia of New Jersey (Edited by Maxine Lurie and Marc Mappen), and it felt like time to check in with my topic again. Dancing Uncle Sam atop the phonograph did not disappoint.
The 131-foot high deco tower and neighboring tiny museum structure do not disappoint. Edison’s friend Henry Ford moved some of Edison’s buildings to his Greenfield Village museum in 1929 to recreate the lab and the Thomas Edison National Park in West Orange, NJ houses Edison’s equipment, but a genuine feeling for the late nineteenth and early twentieth century life of an American inventor unfolds at this little museum that can in New Jersey.
My highlights: Listening to the sounds of the first phonograph in the museum and trying to capture the eerie presence of an “Eternal Light” lit by Thomas himself in 1929 that has been glowing ever since at the tower site, even through a 1937 lightning storm that destroyed the earlier tower around it.
The docents are excellent, and the adjoining Edison State Park provides a woodland retreat to savor all those lively thoughts you’ll be having about invention and creativity in the eleventh American colony. Make some time for inspiration! #MenloParkMuseum #ThomasEdison