Edison: His Life and Inventions HTML version

Memories Of Menlo Park
FROM the spring of 1876 to 1886 Edison lived and did his work at Menlo Park; and at
this stage of the narrative, midway in that interesting and eventful period, it is appropriate
to offer a few notes and jottings on the place itself, around which tradition is already
weaving its fancies, just as at the time the outpouring of new inventions from it invested
the name with sudden prominence and with the glamour of romance. "In 1876 I moved,"
says Edison, "to Menlo Park, New Jersey, on the Pennsylvania Railroad, several miles
below Elizabeth. The move was due to trouble I had about rent. I had rented a small shop
in Newark, on the top floor of a padlock factory, by the month. I gave notice that I would
give it up at the end of the month, paid the rent, moved out, and delivered the keys.
Shortly afterward I was served with a paper, probably a judgment, wherein I was to pay
nine months' rent. There was some law, it seems, that made a monthly renter liable for a
year. This seemed so unjust that I determined to get out of a place that permitted such
injustice." For several Sundays he walked through different parts of New Jersey with two
of his assistants before he decided on Menlo Park. The change was a fortunate one, for
the inventor had married Miss Mary E. Stillwell, and was now able to establish himself
comfortably with his wife and family while enjoying immediate access to the new
laboratory. Every moment thus saved was valuable.
To-day the place and region have gone back to the insignificance from which Edison's
genius lifted them so startlingly. A glance from the car windows reveals only a gently
rolling landscape dotted with modest residences and unpretentious barns; and there is
nothing in sight by way of memorial to suggest that for nearly a decade this spot was the
scene of the most concentrated and fruitful inventive activity the world has ever known.
Close to the Menlo Park railway station is a group of gaunt and deserted buildings,
shelter of the casual tramp, and slowly crumbling away when not destroyed by the
carelessness of some ragged smoker. This silent group of buildings comprises the famous
old laboratory and workshops of Mr. Edison, historic as being the birthplace of the
carbon transmitter, the phonograph, the incandescent lamp, and the spot where Edison
also worked out his systems of electrical distribution, his commercial dynamo, his
electric railway, his megaphone, his tasimeter, and many other inventions of greater or
lesser degree. Here he continued, moreover, his earlier work on the quadruplex,
sextuplex, multiplex, and automatic telegraphs, and did his notable pioneer work in
wireless telegraphy. As the reader knows, it had been a master passion with Edison from
boyhood up to possess a laboratory, in which with free use of his own time and powers,
and with command of abundant material resources, he could wrestle with Nature and
probe her closest secrets. Thus, from the little cellar at Port Huron, from the scant shelves
in a baggage car, from the nooks and corners of dingy telegraph offices, and the grimy
little shops in New York and Newark, he had now come to the proud ownership of an
establishment to which his favorite word "laboratory" might justly be applied. Here he
could experiment to his heart's content and invent on a larger, bolder scale than ever--and
he did!