Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison, holder of almost 2,000 patents, lived on Park Avenue and worked on Main Street. I have always admired him, since as a child, I saw a biopic. He saved his mother's life by figuring how to light the surgical field so she could get the operation she needed. And he almost blew up a train with nitroglycerin he had made, unaware of its explosive potential.

Edison's workplace, the remarkable site of "industrial invention" located on Main Street in West Orange, NJ, is operated by the National Park Service and they have recently reopened the site for visitors. I visited two buildings, #5 and the Chemistry Laboratory. Building #5 held his library of 10,000 volumes and shops for making machines, taking photographs and recording music. The chemistry building was set up much like a high school or college chem lab would be, with two aisles of work tables surrounded by shelves of ingredients. We stopped by the table used by Edison himself and the Park Ranger explained that most of Edison's patents were related to chemistry. A slight whiff of chemicals hung in the air, all these years after Edison left the building for the last time. They advised not to touch the tables: "We don't know what's been on them!"

After leaving the chemistry building, I strolled over to see the Black Maria, the building he created for making movies. The whole building turns and the roof opens so that sunlight could shine in for the filmmaking.