Honoring Thomas Edison in Menlo Park

By Lauren Wanko

Towering over a 35-acre state park is a tribute to New Jersey’s legendary inventor, Thomas Edison.

“This is where invention was created,” said Kathleen Carlucci, director of the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park.

Menlo Park. In the early 1870s, it was a failed housing development in a rural area until Thomas Edison purchased land here in 1875.

“What Edison does here is he creates what today we know as the first organized research and development site. Edison decided, ‘I don’t want to be last, I don’t want to be second, I want to be first,’ so he hires experts, people who are experts in their own field and he brings them all together here. It’s almost like a brain trust,” Carlucci said.

The Ohio native had been conducting experiments since he was a child. But it’s the phonograph, an invention created at Menlo Park, that makes him a household name, says Carlucci. He got the idea after conducting experiments on the telephone. People were fascinated by the phonograph.

“No one had ever heard the voice recorded and played back,” Carlucci said.

Carlucci says Edison had a burst of astonishing creativity here at Menlo Park, creating 400 of his most important inventions. He become known as the Wizard of Menlo Park.

“Edison himself called this site the invention factory,” she said.

The eager inventor soon moves on to light — the incandescent light bulb.

“That’s what Edison’s known for. He doesn’t invent the light bulb, but he makes it a commercial commodity,” Carlucci said.

Edison creates an experimental electric railway at Menlo Park, and hundreds of other things. He was awarded 1,093 U.S. patents. In the late 1880s Edison moved his lab from Menlo Park to West Orange. He died there in 1931. Soon after the Menlo Park property was donated to New Jersey and become Edison State Park, says Carlucci. The Edison Pioneers, which included those who worked with the inventor, were determined to honor his legacy and his associates with a 131-foot tower. It was dedicated in 1938, on Edison’s birthday — Feb. 11. Today it still serves as a reminder that this inventor let his imagination and creativity soar.

“His eyes were open to possibilities and it really shows, especially our youth today, with hard work and persistence you can really create a beautiful world,” Carlucci said.