Sunday, September 22, 2013

Photo-of-the-Week #125 - Building #5, The Edison Laboratory, West Orange, New Jersey, September 21, 2013

This was a complete serendipity. The three story red building in this photograph is Building #5 in the Thomas A. Edison complex in West Orange, New Jersey. This was where Edison worked on designing and building the first motion picture camera, the tin foil, cylinder and disc phonograph records and players. The inventions he worked on in this building boggle the mind. The entire end of the building on the left side, all three stories, was Edison's personal research library. It's like a time machine in there. He even had a cot in the library to take naps on when he worked extremely long hours on his research and conceptualizing his inventions. In the foreground, outside Building #5, is a replica of the "Black Maria," reputed to be the first motion picture studio in the world. There is also a "Music Room" inside this building, basically one of the first, if not the first recording studio in the world.

This building and about five or six other buildings around the laboratory are all now a National Historic Park, operated and maintained by the National Park Service. But, it's important to know that these few buildings and the large building in the background, which was the Edison battery factory, are only a small percentage of the original Thomas Edison Company complex that occupied several square blocks. There is an aerial view of the entire complex on display, which has all been torn down now except for what I've just described. We take so much of what Edison invented and bestowed upon modern society (that literally changed the world as we know it) because none of it is unique today. It's all just common, everyday "stuff" we have and use. Edison went way farther than inventing the light bulb that brightened our nights.

I said at the beginning that finding this was a serendipity. I said that because I really had no plan to look for it, let alone seeing it. I was driving from Short Hills, New Jersey where I stayed with my friends, Gil and Esther Eagles, thanks to their kind and generous offer the evening before, after our dinner together. I programmed my GPS to take me to Clifton, New Jersey, my hometown, avoiding interstate highways and toll roads. So, I was following the GPS as I went through the town of Millburn, New Jersey, where I had a summer job during college with a small company called All-State Communications. I know I passed the building the business was located in, but I couldn't recognize it. As I'm driving along, I see in front of me, towering over a huge derelict building complex, a very tall water tower with the name Edison on it. It struck me immediately that I was in West Orange, New Jersey and this was the Edison complex.

But, you see, there is a much more personal and far more meaningful historic significance to the Laboratory, Building #5. I was in that very building when it was still an active part of what became the McGraw-Edison Company about 53-55 years ago when I was a pre-adolescent. And the reason I was in that building back then is because my father, himself with a few patents in his name for inventing some components of what became the modern fax machine, worked on the second floor of that Building #5 as the Chief Design Engineer and assistant to the vice-president of the aerospace division of the McGraw-Edison Corporation. He was instrumental in the design of the inertial guidance systems that guided our ballistic missiles and the rockets in the NASA space program. Dad worked there until the end of 1966, just prior to his premature death. I toured the entire complex and shot, probably, well over 100 photos.

So, what a find! What a treasure! To walk, once again, not only where Thomas Edison walked, but also where the man who gave me the guidance and opportunity to have the fantastic life I've had, my Dad, walked. Serendipity!  


Linda Sand said...

I've been there. Go early; we ran out of time so didn't get to see everything but it was well worth the stop.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Even though I'd been in that building as a kid when my father worked in it, I had no idea of the significance. The displays are amazing. The library was amazing. Of course, they had restored it to pretty much the way it was when it was running full-tilt under Edison, so they had put back all the fantastic, vintage machining and other equipment and lighting, etc. So, it didn't really look much like it did when I was there with my father. But, there is so much to see. You're right Linda, get there early and take the tours.