WEST ORANGE, NJ – Several thousand visitors took a step into the past to explore Thomas Edison’s laboratory complex for “Edison Day,” which ran concurrently with the West Orange Street Fair on Saturday.

“This was the second year the town combined the two events to draw more visitors,” said Township Council President Jerry Guarino. “Holding Edison Day alone, they never saw the kind of numbers they saw last year by holding it jointly with the West Orange Street Fair. They used to maybe get a few hundred people, but by partnering with the fair, they far exceeded that number and were able to have a huge turnout for Edison Day.”

In the main building, guests walked through rooms where Edison and his staff changed the world. The three-story building held a research library, machine shop, camera and dark room, supply and element storage room, drafting room, music room and Edison’s office. His personal library, with books, journals and research information helped him create over 1000 patents. 

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At the Chemistry Lab, guests learned more about Edison’s chemistry experiments with storage batteries, sound recording technology and goldenrod rubber. Although Edison was best known for the incandescent light bulb and phonograph, guests learned that perhaps his greatest invention was the research and development lab.

At the Pattern and Blacksmith Shops, guests checked out the wood and metal work that took place at the laboratory.

Chief of Interpretation and Education Karen Sloat-Olsen said, “Today we are celebrating Edison and the town. Visitors coming to the fair are given a chance to see what is right in their backyard. I don’t think people realize the breadth and depth of the Thomas Edison National Historical Park.” 

Edison Day is more robust than a regular day at the museum because of the activities, demonstrations, art, and mainly because entry into all the buildings is free and all buildings are open to the public. For example, usually the Archive building is open by reservation only. Today, guests had a chance to view Edison’s personal diary, the family scrapbook and calling cards of visitors to Glenmont. 

In one building, guests performed an experiment by making records using antique equipment with no electricity involved. Guests listened as musicians recorded on a 100-year-old phonograph with a wax cylinder. The curator helped set up the wax cylinder that carved the music onto it. It was then played back on the phonograph machine. The following musicians participated:

  • Marcus Milius—Traditonal Blues & Prohibition Jazz
  • Dolunay—Songs Of Turkey & Rumeli, from Brooklyn
  • Chad Smith and Lynette Wardle—Rudy Wiedoeft Tribute. As a duo, they performed the innovative sounds of saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft, a featured Edison recording artist from 1917 to 1924.

Guests also had the opportunity to visit Black Maria, the replica of the first motion picture studio, and learn about filmmaking with Mono No Aware, a cinematic arts non-profit group. They also watched early motion pictures and signed up to make movies in the Edison style later this summer.

In the Activity Tent, kids earned Junior Ranger badges by completing a set of activities. There were also hands-on chemistry activities sponsored by The North Jersey American Chemical Society; old games that Edison played; and new games like Jeopardy and New Science. In addition, participants performed hands-on experiments, gardened and saw antique cars. And, Camp Edison promoted its summer camp enrichment program with interactive play in sound, movie and nature activities.

Nancy Scott of West Caldwell said, “This is my first time here. I’ve never been here, even though I’ve been in the area for 40 years. I’ve always wanted to go. I’m very impressed. I could have spent hours in there.”

Due to the large number of people who attended the event both this year and last year,  a spinoff event has been created called, “Glenmont Day,” where on November 7, guests will be able to view the personal home of Edison and see the other side of the business inventor—the family man.

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