On This Date in History: In 1876, Thomas Edison did perhaps the smartest thing he ever did. He created an invention factory. He moved his staff of 15 people into a large clapboard building filled with all sorts of scientific equipment and chemicals in Menlo Park, New Jersey which was then just a small rural hamlet. I’m not certain but it may have been the first research laboratory ever established and Edison proclaimed that he would produce “a minor invention every ten days and a big thing every six months or so.” At the time, many thought the claim was preposterous but 10 years later, Edison had been granted 420 patents…that averages out to one every 3.5 months.
Perhaps his most famous invention was the first practical incandescent light bulb. Note the word “practical.” See, other people had applied for patents for lights but they didn’t last too long. They tried to “sub-divide” electric light or somehow make it weaker. Edison for his part kept trying to use a filament to electrify and make glow. He kept trying platinum but it kept burning up. So, he used a sort of cardboard covered in carbon but that didn’t work so well either until he created a vacuum in glass. The filament didn’t burn but instead glowed brightly. On this date in 1879, Thomas Alva Edison lit up the new year by demonstrating for the first time publically his incandescent light.
A couple of other items. First off, by June 1882, Edison had demostrated how the light could be used in a system and wires were laid and a small area of New York was illuminated. But, on August 1, 1883 20,000 incandescent lights burned brightly in the largest display ever seen in the world. I believe that represented more lights than existed in all of New York City. The place of this display? Louisville, Kentucky at the Southern Exposition. The building was a huge palacial area that stood for five years during the time of the exposition. It stood where you will find St. James Court today. Now, Edison gets all of the credit for the electric light and a whole slew of other inventions. But, he had an entire staff working for him. I’ve always wondered how many of those inventions really came about due to the ideas and work of his staff. Certainly it was Edison’s inspiration, but I wonder about the rest. I suppose it may be a case of those who have the gold makes the rules.