Sunday, April 5, 2009

Edison Museum and Laboratory

Fourth grade was the year I really fell in love with reading. My favorite thing to read was biographies. In my head I can still see the biography section of J.J. Finley Elementary School's Library. And the subject of my favorite biography was Thomas Edison.

So when we visited Thomas Edison's Winter Home in Ft. Myers on a family vacation, it was the first time I remember visiting someplace I had read about in a book (that wasn't for school). It was fascinating to me and perhaps helped to make me the history nut I am today.

So it was a thrill to visit the Edison museum again and see how my perceptions have changed as an adult. My favorite memories from my childhood visit were the huge Banyon tree out front, loads of colorful old phonographs, his stuffy little lab and the above ground swimming pool he built at his house.

Today it is a very well run attraction, and a perfect place to go on a rainy spring day. The Banyon tree, once the largest in United States, was trimmed down for liability reasons, making it second largest. The huge tree still takes up over an acre. The museum has loads of interesting artifacts and wonderful vintage graphics. In addition to owning over a thousand patents, and inventing hundreds of items that became mainstays of modern life, Edison became a brand with his name on everything from batteries to cement and from movies to baby furniture.

There was a wonderful photography exhibit from the Smithsonian and an informative documentary from the History Channel. Volunteers led discussions through the lab and about Edison's home across the street (more on this in a future blog.) The original lab was moved to Greenfield Village in Michigan, this lab replaced it and was used for botanical research, mostly to try to find an inexpensive substitute for latex to make rubber. They settled on the Goldenrod plant as a source of the latex, and for a time actually used it to manufacture products like hot water bottles.

The lab is dark and dusty and I don't believe it was air conditioned. It looks as if it was never cleaned, but left exactly the way it was used when Edison worked there. You can see the cot he used to take naps on and his old fashioned phone. And he obviously had a sweet tooth as there is a giant Baby Ruth box stuck in a closet. For me it was intriguing to share the same space where one of the world's greatest inventor labored. Perhaps I was hoping some of his creative energy would rub off on me. Here is a great quote from Edison that seems to be extremely relevant today:
"Be courageous! Whatever setbacks America has encountered, it has always emerged as a stronger and more prosperous nation.... Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith and go forward"
–Thomas Alva Edison"

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