Punching the Clock with Thomas Edison

It’s said that Thomas Edison’s greatest invention was establishing a new way to invent. (At least that’s what they said at the National Historic Park in his honor.)

He actually made it a business. A campus of buildings in West Orange, NJ hosted 100 employees who worked with him on ideas for, well, practically everything. Each building had a purpose: workshops, chemistry, physics, metallurgy, music…. Some of the ideas were Edison’s and some were the employees’–they worked as teams, although the 1,093 patents were all filed under Edison’s name. (There’s no Edison in team.)

Click the pic to advance the slideshow. The room interiors are not my pics and are courtesy of Flickr.

The Lightbulb, the Phonograph, Could there be Anything Else?

Lightbulb at Thomas Edison National Historic Park

Yup. The stock ticker, a battery that was special in a way that I didn’t understand, firemen’s helmets, an improved clothes iron, a centralized power station. It was endless.

Think of the energy, the debate, the excitement.

Think of the obsession that drove him to sleep in his library.

Thomas Edison's bed in his library

Hours Invested

A time clock was installed to track hours spent on projects, not to monitor wages. Even Edison clocked in, and even if he was only going to his office.

Thomas Edison punching the time clock

You Oughta be in Pictures

Turns out Edison invented the movie camera, too. I did not know that. His studio was a round building roughly 14′ in diameter, and it rotated on a track to make the scenery change–because the camera couldn’t move…yet.

And while he was savvy enough to file patents, he was so fixated on other projects that he evidently didn’t notice all the people taking his technology out to Los Angeles, where it was too far for him to bother with enforcing patents. And that’s how Hollywood began in California! I’m sure there’s more to the story and weather was a factor, but this is sufficiently romantic/larcenous for me.

Edison Movie Camera

Business Sense

In some ways he was savvy, making money off of inventions to fund the next ones. He even founded General Electric.

Other times he was blinded by his own perfection. Case and point: the phonograph. We’ve all heard of a Victrola, but not the Edison. He kept the technology mostly to himself.

How did He Think of the Phonograph?

He realized that people didn’t know what George Washington or Thomas Jefferson sounded like and he thought that was a travesty. So in order to record history, he created this life-changer.

It’s the only idea that they got right the first time they built it! The first recording: Mary Had a Little Lamb…on tin foil. Yup, tin foil.

Multiple tubes would be used if there were multiple instruments or speakers/performers; but in general, the same tube that we hear from is the one that the sound entered through.

Thomas Edison Phonograph

Thanks to Flickr for these pics

You can thank me for the horrible visual quality of this video. Filming, not so much my thing.


What factoid do you know about Edison? Please share!

3 Responses


I learned most of the factoids I know about Edison from you just now.
I will venture a guess that the version you recorded of “Yes, We Have No Bananas” was either Louis Prima or Eddie Cantor. Great old song I used to sing with my clients at the adult day center where I worked for many years. We rocked it out to an Eddie Cantor version but I believe Prima recorded it first.
Random, I know.

It’s great how the old Edison exposed filament light bulb has made a “come back” into modern industrial design. They are really beautiful bulbs.

Also, Your blog is great. I love the educational value of it. Congrats on your Bloggies win!
Danee Sarman recently posted..I Love El Anatsui at the Armory ShowMy Profile

Danee – how lovely of you to see beauty in lightbulbs. I have a quote above my trailer bed that says “if you can find you beauty in everything then you are an artist.” I would say that applies to you!

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