For many years the Edison Museum in West Orange has been closed for renovation. It’s part of the Edison factory complex, where he worked from 1887 until his death in 1931. Later, the National Parks Service picked up as a historical site.
While his big hits, the electric light bulb and the phonograph, were invented earlier at his lab in Menlo Park (now Edison), NJ, it was here that he did his early work on motion pictures, as well as perfecting and refining earlier inventions.
For the technologically inclined, or for people like LF and myself who enjoy examining things and figuring out how they work, the place is a marvel. The chemistry labs, machine floors and prototyping shops seem just as they were when the last worker on the last day walked out. Reagants are still in flasks, tools are still out on the tables, papers on the desks. The materials storeroom has laid out an amazing variety — Edison made it a point to try and get everything imaginable on-hand in case they needed it for something. From tortoise shells and rhinoceros horns to elephant hide and all manner of metals, they were set up like a big toy store.
The best parts, at least in the hour or so we had before closing, were the bright and appealing chemistry lab, the library, and the music room.
The library is a three-story room filled with light, with bookcases arranged in tiers around an open central atrium. It’s full of photos and memorabilia, but some of it is pretty high up — bring binoculars to see them in better detail.
The music room was the first recording studio. Artists from all around came to that place to record on Edison cylinders. The tour guide told the story of Hans von Bulow recording a piano piece there, and fainting when hearing the playback. I was astonished myself that Bulow, a close associate of Brahms and Wagner, was there in the first place. We got to hear a playback of a vocal piece on one of the machines. I’d never actually heard an Edison cylinder before, and I imagine you haven’t either. You may have heard a recording of one, played on a modern audio system; but this was the real thing right out of the big horn.
Outside that room and running the length of the building were glass storage cases with all the models and descriptions of the phonographs, running up through magnetic-cartridge versions from the late ’20s.
I have half a mind to volunteer there, just so I can have a chance to play with the toys.
[googleMap name=”Edison Museum” width=”450″]211 Main Street West Orange, NJ 07052[/googleMap]