Peering Into Illuminated Minds

Trip Start Feb 15, 2010
Trip End Feb 14, 2011

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Where I stayed
Wal-Mart (Brunswick)

Flag of United States  , New Jersey
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Today was spent focused on visiting the sites where Thomas Edison established his two famous laboratories and worked with other brilliant minds to change the world. 

My first stop was to the former site of the Menlo Park Laboratory.  It is now the home to the Menlo Park Museum and Edison Tower, but all of the original buildings have either been destroyed or relocated.  Curiously, Henry Ford, a friend of Edison's, created a full scale replica of the Menlo Park in Dearborn, Michigan.  The creation of Menlo Park marked the first time that a select group of scientists and artisans in a range of fields were all brought together under one roof for the sole purpose of creating new inventions.  The museum was small but held a large number of original artifacts that were been created in the labs.  Some of the old light bulbs and materials used in testing them, telegraphs, phonographs, and dynamos used in electric power generators.  The phonographs were all still functional and the guide showing me around put in one of the old cylinders, cranked up one of the century old machines, and out poured a loud, clear recording of an orchestra with only a barely perceptible warble now and then.  He then showed me the first volume control, which was basically a piece of padding that plugged up the sound horn.  This is apparently where the term "put a sock in it" comes from. 

My next stop was to Edison's next laboratory complex in West Orange, NJ.  The West Orange labs are maintained by the National Park Service, so my annual pass came in handy for this one.  This complex of buildings was quite large and as much as possible has been maintained in its original state.  Major areas included the main building with Edison's library and office, supply room, heavy machine shop, precision machine shop, storage room, phonograph recording studio, chemical lab, photo lab, and drafting offices.  In the recording studio were more working phonographs that a park service volunteer would crank up to play different historic recordings.  It is really quite amazing to hear one of those old things blaring out an entire orchestra with no electricity at all and realize how incredibly simple the concept is.  The machine shops, chemical labs, offices, and other rooms were all intact.  There were also a number of other inventions and artifacts on display next to the large storage areas, including a terrifying talking doll.  There were a number of other buildings around the property but only a couple of them are currently open to the public.  One of the buildings was the main chemistry labs which were moved out of the main building due to fire hazards and to ensure the sometimes sensitive chemical mixtures weren't subject to any vibrations from the rest of the building or the nearby road.  The labs still have all of their equipment and a great number of chemicals placed in their jars and tubes.  The park ranger leading us through this portion of the complex warned us that if anyone should accidentally break any of the jars we would be spending a good deal of time together while we waited for a decontamination team to arrive and determine what we had been exposed to.  I, myself, chose to believe that any truly dangerous chemicals had probably been either removed and replaced with look-alikes, or at least set out of the reach of blundering tourists.  The park service had also reconstructed a "Black Maria" which was the first movie studio.

West Orange is where Edison and his "muckers" developed, amongst many other things, the fluoroscope (x-ray machine), the first motion
cameras, electric streetcars, and improvements of the phonograph.  The
last project Edison was working on was to develop a more economical
source for natural rubber for use in automobile tires, a request from
Henry Ford.  Research was coming along well and the chosen plant was goldenrod.  The scientists had succeeded in breeding plants of immense size and were progressing well, but artificial materials were developed that stole the market and Edison would die of complications from diabetes before the process was completed.  The visit to Edison's labs was certainly an enlightening one, and made for a very interesting and well-spent day.

My next step was to drive a short distance to the east into New York City where I would be meeting with my mom the next day.  After doing a little research into the hotel we had chosen, I called my mom and we decided to cancel that reservation and go for a hotel a little closer to a metro train station.  She quickly did some more calling around and set us up with reservations at the Country Inn and Suites in Long Island City.  I made my way across Manhattan Island and over the bridges until I found the hotel.  Since the nearest Wal-Mart was about thirty miles away, I set about finding a parking spot for the night.  Easier said than done with each side of every street having different schedules for street cleaning that determine when you can and cannot park there.  I finally found a spot just around the corner from the hotel and a 24-hour gas station.  The neighborhood was, at first appearance, worse than it turned out to be.  Of course, any neighborhood on the edge of a city the size of New York is bound to look a little dingy.  I've never really felt unsafe in big cities; on the other hand, I've never spent
the night in my car while parked on the streets of one, but after watching a few suited businessmen, lone jogging women, and a young couple pushing their strollers, I determined that this book's cover was pretty deceiving, and I wouldn't have to worry about the area.  With that, I shut my curtains and turned in for the night amidst the din of the sleepless city.
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