“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” ~ Thomas Edison
As an artist, people are always asking me where I come up with my ideas. As I develop ideas for Ask Holly, I have had loads that end up in the “Epic Fail” pile. Never did I think that taking the quick trip to the Thomas Edison Historical National Park complex in West Orange would open so many doors in my mind. My children and I were fascinated to learn the way this famous inventor worked.
Many of us know Thomas Edison as the mostly deaf ”Wizard of Menlo Park,” who, before moving to West Orange, was the driving force behind inventing the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the first commercially practical incandescent light—to name only a few. He held 1,093 US patents in his name and was the driving force behind thousands of ideas and new concepts.
“I readily absorb ideas from every source, frequently starting where the last person left off.”
A trip to the Thomas Edison National Historic Park is a family day trip that you’ll love:
Start your visit:
- Park across the street in the free parking lots.
- Pay at the Visitor Center (cash and checks only) kids under 16 are free and adults are $7 for the laboratory and everything on the grounds and the Glenmont House tour. I opted for the $30 year pass good for the pass holder and three more adults.
- Listen to the park ranger as to what is open and when tours for the special programs begin. You need tickets (free) for the Chemistry Lab, The Phonograph Demonstration runs on the half hour and the Motion Picture and The Black Maria run a few times a day.
- Shop at the unique gift shop open to the public and a great place to but interesting gifts for children and adults.
“Inspiration can be found in a pile of junk. Sometimes, you can put it together with a good imagination and invent something.”
The Main Laboratory:
Look everywhere! Up down and all around from the punch clock by the front door to the enormous viewing screen rolled up in the library. There are QR bar codes on many of the machines so make sure your phone or Ipad is charged up to watch the machines in action. We also found laminated sheets around the building with quizzes and things to find.
Mr. Edison spend most of his days in this building. So much so that his wife had a bed put down in the library for her husband to take well needed naps.
Look for the giant pulley hook system and the main engines that control the belts in the machine room. Check out the two giant engines that power the enormous belts giving power to all of the machines in the room.
Read as much as you can about Edison before visiting the laboratory and explain what he did with your kids. They are bound to be far more fascinated with the machines and labs if they understand the history.
Ask the park rangers working questions. These men and women are super nice and a have loads of information as well as answers to most of your questions.
“Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
The Black Maria:
Known as the world’s first motion picture studio built in 1892. Called the Black Maria because it was thought to look like a police patrol wagon (paddy wagons) and just as cramped. The studio had a roof that could be opened to admit sunlight for illumination, and the building itself was mounted on a revolving pivot so that the structure could be constantly re-positioned to keep it aligned with the sun.
Check out the movies playing in the visitor center and be sure to manage your time to take a closer look with a ranger of the Black Maria.
“Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a ‘genius’ is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.”
The Chemistry Laboratory:
Loaded with test tubes, measuring tools and chemicals this lab was the place where Edison was working on his last great invention before his death in 1931. Funded by his close friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, Edison’s was working for a domestic source of rubber after World War I. He was working to create rubber from goldenrod and there are many example of what he did create. The rubber was not strong enough for tires but it was used for other products. The development of synthetic rubber and Edison’s death ended the goldenrod experiments. Can you image the hay fever outbreaks if NJ was planting fields of goldenrod?
“If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves….”
A gorgeous home and well worth the tour but I would not recommend it for small children as they will get antsy and bored. The park ranger are full of information about this home bought for Edison’s new 20 year old second wife Mina Miller. I found it interesting that our ranger only mentioned that Mina was the daughter of an inventor. I read later that her father was the rather wealthy Lewis Miller, inventor of the first combine. The Greenhouse: A quick five minute walk through lovely and suitable for children.
Go back if you have children and or visitors get the $30 yearly pass and visit the park again and again. My children are 5 and 9 but I will need to take them back many more times for them (and myself) to fully grasp the genius behind The Invention Factory.
Check out the side-how for more images: