Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory

the Henry Ford, Greenfield Village, Michigan

Memories of the Phonograph

 

On December 6, 1877, inside Edison's main laboratory building at Menlo Park, New Jersey, Thomas Alva Edison and his head machinist, John Kruesi, first successfully captured the human voice and played it back on Edison's "Talking Phonograph." (3).

 

Second floor of Edison's reconstructed lab

Edison's Menlo Park Complex - Birthplace of the Phonograph - Virtual Tour

Reconstructed at Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, Michigan

Just a few bricks and planks were all that could be taken to Dearborn from the original Menlo Park complex in New Jersey (along with some dirt). Therefore, the Edison Menlo Park Complex in Greenfield Village are reconstructions of the lab, the machine shop, and the office and library. Additionally, the small glass shop at Menlo Park, which had been removed by General Electric years before, was relocated to Dearborn, as was the Sarah Jordan boarding house where lab workers and visitors stayed and could lunch. (Information courtesy of The Center for Land Use Interpretation)

 

This 1878 photograph (above) shows Edison and some of his workers on the steps and balcony and documents the birthplace of the Phonograph, where Edison invented the lightbulb, and the reason Edison was called the "Wizard of Menlo Park."

 

Edison's reconstructed laboratory at Greenfield Village

Ford became the ultimate collector in the 1920's and the rescue of his birthplace in 1919 can be seen as a first step of a shift from simply collecting 'objects' to also collecting 'buildings' with the ultimate goal of creating his own historic village. The Henry Ford Museum website describes this transition in collecting:

In 1919, Henry Ford learned that his birthplace was at risk because of a road improvement project. He took charge—moving the farmhouse and restoring it to the way he remembered it from the time of his mother’s death in 1876, when he was 13. He and his assistants combed the countryside for items that he remembered and insisted on tracking down.

He followed this up by restoring his old one-room school, Scotch Settlement School; the 1686 Wayside Inn in South Sudbury, Massachusetts (with a plan to develop a “working” colonial village); and the 1836 Botsford Inn in Farmington, Michigan, a stagecoach inn where he and his wife Clara had once attended old-fashioned dances. These restorations gave Ford many opportunities to add to his rapidly growing collections while honing his ideas for his own historic village.

"Edison at Work - The Menlo Park Complex" is one of seven historic districts in Greenfield Village. It is Henry Ford's tribute to Edison who Ford deeply admired, who Ford had worked for, and who he considered a friend throughout the 20th century until Edison's death in 1931.

"Edison at Work" fits perfectly with the Henry Ford Museum mission of bringing together "objects, stories, and lives from America’s traditions of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation" since Menlo Park is one of the original R&D labs in the world, and Edison, of course, is an icon for those traditions.

 

Photograph of Edison in April 1878 taken at Mathew Brady Studio, Washington D.C. (Modern colorization)

 

 

Drawing of Menlo Park lab as it looked in 1880, at the height of its productivity. Image courtesy of the Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Museum

 

 

Menlo Park Library - Image: THF1974 (Courtesy the Henry Ford)

 

 

Menlo Park Laboratory - Image: THF1973 (Courtesy the Henry Ford)

 

 

Menlo Park Glass House - Image: THF151613 (Courtesy the Henry Ford)

 

 

Menlo Park Carpentry Shop - Image: THF151610 (Courtesy the Henry Ford)

 

 

 

Menlo Park Carbon Shed - Image: THF151609 (Courtesy the Henry Ford)

 

 

 

Menlo Park Machine Shop - Image: THF151614 (Courtesy the Henry Ford)

 

 

 

 

Thomas Alva Edison Statue, 1949 - Image: THF1700

 

 

 

Sarah Jordan Boarding House