Thomas Edison’s New Jersey home, Glenmont Estate, and the adjacent laboratory complex comprise the Thomas Edison National Park in West Orange, New Jersey. The Laboratory Complex Visitor Center is the gateway to the park. Visitors begin here to pay their fees and watch a short movie on the history of Thomas Edison and his inventions.
Additional films include Edison’s black and white “Great Train Robbery,” a 1903 Western considered a filmmaking milestone. The Laboratory Complex itself, however, is perhaps Edison’s most important invention. At the laboratory, which is preserved today by the National Park, Edison received over 1,000 patents for inventions including the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, black and white motion pictures and alkaline batteries. The complex consists of the visitor center, which is located in the physics laboratory, a chemistry laboratory and metallurgical laboratory, a machine shop, library, and Edison’s office. Additional buildings include Black Maria, used as a film studio, and vaults 8, 12 and 33. The complex also served as a factory where components of phonographs, projectors and cameras were made. Money earned through these businesses helped support future inventions. Over 400,000 artifacts make up the collection at the laboratory complex. Included among these are close to 50,000 sound recordings, over 10,000 rare books in Edison’s library, and 60,000 photographs, and upwards of 5 million documents.
The Glenmont Estate is a 29-room Queen Anne style home in Llewellyn Park, New Jersey. The 13.5 acre property consists of a greenhouse and potting shed, stables, and barn. A poured concrete garage on site is the result of Edison’s experiments in pouring concrete buildings. Edison moved into the home in 1886, shortly after marrying Mina Miller. The couple raised three children in the home. The home was built in 1880 by the architect Henry Hudson Holly, who also designed the laboratory complex. Hudson was instrumental in bringing the Queen Anne style of architecture to the United States and the Glenmont Estate is considered the crowning jewel of his career. The asymmetrical façade features a wrap-around porch and rooftop balcony on the steeply gabled roof. A glass conservatory is featured at one end of the home. Interior elements include painted ceilings, hand-stenciled walls, stained glass windows and elaborate chandeliers, woodwork and wainscoting. The home’s décor offers a rare look at the design of Pottier & Stymus, a New York firm, which lost all its historical records in a fire in the late 1800’s. The home is outfitted with modern Gothic style furniture and Victorian era decorative arts. Over 40,000 artifacts in the home include Tiffany and Company clocks, paintings by Hudson River School artists, Persian rugs and French porcelain. Edison family memorabilia, photographs and documents are on display, along with his inventions.
History: Thomas Edison (1847-1931) is known as ‘America’s greatest inventor.’ Among his most well-known inventions are the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph and the motion-picture camera. His most enduring legacy, however, is perhaps his invention of the research and development laboratory itself. Over 100 employees worked at the laboratory complex at the turn of the century, with Edison overseeing small teams on different projects. The Laboratory complex closed shortly after Edison’s death in 1931. Mina, who owned the Glenmont Estate outright to prevent it from being taken by Edison’s creditors, remarried and lived in the home until her death in 1947. In 1948, the site opened as a museum. In 1955, the home was established as a National Historic Site, while the laboratory was established as a National Historic Monument in 1956. By 1962, the Edison National Historic Site was established to encompass both sites, and became the Thomas Edison National Park in 2009.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Educational programming at the National Park includes guided ranger tours of both the home and laboratory complex. Cell phone audio tours are available for those who prefer a self-guided pace. The laboratory welcomes school groups, scout groups and others. Children can earn the Junior Ranger badge at either of the sites. The park is one of the stops on the Washington Rock and Roll Tour, a cycling tour sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
Events include Holidays at Glenmont, when the estate is decked out in Victorian holiday décor. Harry’s Magical Invention Bag is a monthly program in which Harry Roman, who established the NJ Inventors Hall of Fame, discusses Edison’s role in history, and New Jersey’s ongoing role in the national invention scene.
211 Main Street, West Orange, NJ 07052, Phone: 973-736-0550