This past week, we loaded up Grace (our Chevy Express 15 passenger van…dh named her "Grace" because when someone asks how we came to our destination we can rightly say "by the Grace of God!") and headed off to Menlo Park in Edison NJ, which is about an hour from us. Our own "young Edison" (11yo ds) has been eager to visit here for quite some time. My mom and dad hopped into the van with us (gotta love having a large van) and my brother, sil and new baby nephew followed in their car. Dh couldn’t make it because he had to work, unfortunately.
"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Accordingly a ‘genius’ is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework"
…and so it was a day of LIVING SCHOOLWORK. I have got to tell you, it was NOT what we expected, but we learned a LOT. We pulled up and saw the tall tower with the big glass light bulb atop….and this small red brick building that was …the museum…one small room in front and one small room in back and…no touching please…even though everything is out and touchable except for a few glass cases. I could not stay and listen for long because of the itchy fingers of the 2.5 and 4yo…my 6yodd followed me out eager to be in the sunshine. Another something to offer up…but! I still learned a great deal….
"Even though I am nearly deaf, I seem to be gifted with a kind of
inner hearing which enables me to detect sounds and noises that the listeners do not
We did find out that Thomas Edison had an amazing wit, sense of humor, and a desire to be an actor. He liked to sing and dance wearing a very large sombrero hat. He loved a good turn of phrase and practical jokes. That being the case, he often thought the truth was too boring and often elaborated when he told stories (most especially of his past) so it is very difficult to get an accurate biography of him! He is often written about as a deaf man…which is not true. Even the circumstances of his reduced hearing loss were so exaggerated over time that it fed this misconception. Towards the end of his life he had his hearing checked which showed he just missed the high and the low sounds of the spectrum. He told his son not to tell his mother that he could hear so well because then she would force him to attend church (she was a devout Methodist and he had no care of "organized religion") He had 6 children 3 from his first marriage (it ended with her death) and 3 from his second. It was said of him that each child got a part of him and never the whole, but if you put them all together you would have the whole of him.
"Inspiration can be found in a pile of junk. Sometimes, you can put it
together with a good imagination and invent something."
The gentleman we talked to at the museum was quite entertaining and apprenticed under Edison’s youngest son, who was also an inventor in his own right. I asked him how he came to hold this position, to which he responded…"He was listed in the phone book". This gentleman interviewed members of Edison’s family and many of the people that worked with him and their families and got a very different story than the one customarily penned about the man. The following information is what I can recall from his interesting presentation about Edison, recalled to the best of my ability. If there are any errors, take it up with him ;o)
"The three things that are most essential to achievement are
common sense, hard work and stick-to-it-iv-ness….. "
Menlo Park was 90% research and 10% production. The site in West Orange, NJ was 90% production and 10% research. Edison had a highly trained work force full of people who could "think out of the box" Edison in his humor often had perspective employees take an "mental fitness test" in which they had to answer questions like "Who killed Abraham Lincoln?" and "How much yarn would it take to stretch from Chicago to New York city?" This test would often irritate the intellectuals that would apply there …and even Yale, who would often send them. One applicant answered the second question "balls and balls and balls and balls and that is what I think of this test and you!"…the man was hired on the spot. Yale came up with it’s own test for Mr. Edison, trying to put him in line. Edison scored a 97…they left him alone after that….
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in
overalls and looks like work."
Mr. Edison did not create most of his inventions. He was not very dextrous so he had other people to be his hands. He amazingly created most of his inventions in Menlo park during a 7 year period which was the result of his organizational genius. He was a thinker…he was bad at math…he hired others to do that for him!
The first words to be recorded on his phonograph were not "Mary had a little lamb" it was "hoo hoo halloo!" and of course was tested many times during production before Mary’s poem hit recording status.
"The first requisite for success is to develop the ability to
focus and apply your mental and physical energies to the problem at hand –
without growing weary. Because such thinking is often difficult, there seems to be no limit to which some people will go to avoid the effort and labor that is
associated with it…."
Did you know that Edison invented the word "Hello"? The story goes…Alexander Graham bell used to answer his telephone "hoy, hoy!" which irritated Mr. Edison to no end. Just to get his jollies out of the situation, he began to answer the telephone "hell o" which was his very interesting twist of humor…his answering (during a Victorian era) in a manner that would be his unique way of telling the caller to go to…XXXX …yep, you guessed it, but others didn’t and would you believe it? It caught on…which annoyed Alexander Graham Bell to no end…it made good shtick.
Edison didn’t like Bell’s telephone because you had to talk and listen in the same piece. That is when (the little disk) the telephone carbon button transmitter was invented. True to form, Edison sold the rights to J. Gould instead of Bell (if memory serves the amount was 140. thousand) It was sold to…Bell’s competitor.
"I am not overly impressed
by the great names and reputations of those who might be trying to beat me to an
invention…. Its their ‘ideas’ that appeal to me.
I am quite correctly described as ‘more of a sponge than an inventor….’
Edison was very good at politics too…when trying to run his electric lines in NY, an important city building was in the way and it was blocked by certain politicians. Edison invited all of them to a get-together and got them drunk…he got his electric lines through…
"Pretty much everything will come to him
who hustles while he waits. I believe that restlessness is discontent, and
discontent is merely the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly
satisfied man and I will show you a failure."
Edison did NOT invent the light bulb, which is something of which he is often associated. He improved it. The first lasting filament was made of a special type of bamboo. When trying to get the special bamboo from Yawata, Japan, he found that the greatest supply of it was in the local temple in that town..thereby belonging to the gods. Edison found out that even the gods could be bought and got his bamboo. Then they erected statues of Edison in Yawata and honored him as a god.
"Of all my inventions, I liked the phonograph best…."
Edison really loved his phonograph. He called it "my baby" and said it would bring him good company in his old age. He loved to pose with it for pictures. And if you notice, he is often pictured with it, not the light bulb which he is most remembered for.
"Many of life’s failures are experienced
by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
Not all of Edison’s inventions were so successful. He once lost 2 million dollars on a project that would extract iron from the low grade ore deposits here in NJ. (an interesting trivia note…The area is present day Ogednsburg and there are those in Japan that think that Ogdensburg is Edison NJ…it is 1 1/2 hrs away. This they found out years later when representatives wanted to meet the Edison people in Edison NJ..it was marked differently on their maps! and an hour and a half LATER they finally made it to the meeting.)
He built his own mine and invented the machinery needed to work the mine, but then higher quality deposits were found elsewhere and could be mined more cheaply. …that is when he lost the money. He did use the expertise he gained and developed a cement works and revolutionized the way cement was made. He tried his hand at concrete road making, which did not work out, but helped lead the way to the production of an electric car and his friendship with Henry Ford.
"Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways
something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every
wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward…. "
After listening for quite some time in the museum we explored a trail leading from the museum to a pond…evidentially Edison loved nature and fishing and would often fish here with his co-workers. It was through woods and it was obvious they need more money to keep things up. The trip was free but we did leave a donation.
The highlight of the day was our packed picnic lunch at the only two picnic tables at the end of the trail and the launching of 2 pepsi- mentos fountains that the 11 and 8yo boys created for our entertainment. …and the kids got a giggle reiterating (several times) the statement that the guide made that George Washinton’s dog was named "Sweet Lips"…Definitely a science and history-filled day. It was a great opportunity for the children to learn about how history is sometimes recorded and perceived. The admonition "don’t believe everything you hear" applies here….and oh yes, Edison was homeschooled by his mother…but only because his father refused to pay the school tax. His mother was a teacher, so his father said "You teach him!"…LOL…and his father once sent him a telegraph regarding one of his inventions "stop embarrassing me!"
"The thing I lose patience with the most is the clock. Its hands
move too fast."
It was time that was both leisurely and educationally well-spent. We managed to take pics and purchased a few post cards to mount in our trip scrapbook. We are hoping to make other exploratory field trips this summer with the help of "Grace" the loyal van!;o)
If parents pass enthusiasm along to their children, they will leave them an estate of incalculable
memory of my mother will always be a blessing to me….
Life’s most soothing things are a child’s
goodnight and sweet music….
Thomas A. Edison
(1847 – 1931)