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article number 334
article date 04-15-2014
copyright 2014 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
“There’s a Way to Do It Better—Find It.” Thomas Edison’s Inventive Life in Total
by Address by BRIGADIER GENERAL DAVID SARNOFF, Radio Corporation of America
   

This article is composed of excerpts from “The Indispensable Man,” a 1962 tribute to Edison’s election to “The Hall of Fame for Great Americans.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Many historians point out some faults of worshiping Edison. His glow does detract from other inventors: for instance, George Westinghouse’s invention of our modern alternating current power distribution system and C. Francis Jenkins’ development of the usable motion picture camera and projector. Still, this article helps us enjoy the energy and structure of Edison’s genius. Also, he appears to be of good character.

* * *

“Edison had more new ideas than he had time and hands to work out. As a result, he made what was probably one of his greatest contributions to mankind. He collected around him a group of brilliant men who could help him explore the many channels opened by his fertile mind.

“Today such organized research is the basis of most technical progress, and we owe a great debt to the man who led the way.

“Every citizen is as much a beneficiary of Mr. Edison as if he had mentioned him in his will.”

Quote from: CHARLES F. KETTERING

* * *

   
The last photograph of Thomas Alva Edison, taken in the summer of 1931 at his home “Glenmont,” Llewellyn Park, West Orange, New Jersey, at age 84. He died on October 18, 1931.

Thomas Alva Edison joined the company of immortal Americans in the Hall of Fame at New York University on June 4, 1961 in New York City.

The great inventor received the necessary majority vote of the 143 Electors of the Hall of Fame in 1960, the first election for which he was eligible. Edison had been placed in nomination by many distinguished citizens, including Mr. Thomas J. Watson, Jr., Chairman of the Board, International Business Machines Corporation. Mr. Watson headed a special committee of leading citizens from diverse fields, joined to support the election of Edison.

This publication records the formal installation ceremony convened at University Heights on June 4, 1961, and serves as a lasting document of that historic occasion.

“A WAY TO DO IT BETTER”

Address by BRIGADIER GENERAL DAVID SARNOFF
Chairman of the Board, Radio Corporation of America
Trustee, Thomas Alva Edison Foundation
Trustee, New York University

   
Brigadier General David Sarnoff, Chairman of the Board, Radio Corporation of America, whose career in electronics and communications spans the eras of the telegraph key and the space satellite. Shown is a model of an RCA proposed synchronous satellite which would move through space at 22,300 miles per hour, remaining above a Fixed point over the equator, and serve for the intercontinental transmission of communications.

This inspiring ceremony in honor of a matchless American recalls another event in which I was privileged to participate, nearly 33 years ago, at West Orange, in October, 1928. The occasion was the presentation of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Thomas Alva Edison, then in his eighty-first year. The memory is particularly vivid today because of the presence here of his son, Charles Edison, who was also present then, and Harvey Firestone, Jr., whose father was there with the senior Henry Ford and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon.

I remember that after dinner we filed into Mr. Edison’s pine-paneled library to hear a radio message from President Coolidge in the White House. Many eulogies were offered by many men, each groping for words to convey the monumental greatness that is Edison His own response was a classic of brevity—just 90 words.

None of us here today can hope to improve on the conciseness for which the great intuitive and practical inventor was famous. Nowhere, perhaps, was this virtue better displayed than by a small placard on the wall of his laboratory. It bore the motto: “There’s a way to do it better—find it.”

Now, as in 1928, it is a profound privilege for any American to be invited to join in honoring Edison. A celebration of his genius amounts, indeed, to a celebration of the genius of our nation. For Edison is uniquely of our America and of our times. He was an individualist through and through, ceaselessly breaking new ground, a pioneer pushing dauntlessly across new frontiers, exploring unknown continents of matter and energy.

   
Mathew Brady, the famed Civil War photographer posed Edison with assistant Charles Batchelor (standing) and his new phonograph in 1878. Of that triumphal visit to Washington, Edison also relates: “About 11 o’clock P.M. word was received from the President (Rutherford B. Hayes) that he would be very pleased if I would come . . . I was taken (to the White House) and found Mr. Hayes and several Hayes waiting . . . The exhibition continued till about 12:30 AM., when Mrs. Hays and several other ladies who had been induced to get up and dress appeared. I left at 3:30 A.M.”
   
Edison workers on the steps of the Menlo Park laboratory in 1880.
   
Interior of the building shown above. Edison is seated at left end of organ pipes which was used for the amusement of the workers. These men comprised the world’s first organized research team under Edison’s direction. From his experiences at Menlo Park, Edison later determined to build a larger and better equipped laboratory with “facilities incomparably superior to any other for rapid and cheap development of an invention . . . In fact there is no similar institution in existence . . . Can build anything from a lady’s watch to a locomotive.’’ Just such a laboratory, built to Edison’s exact specification, opened on November 24, 1887 in West Orange, N. J. Today, it is maintained just as Edison left it, as the Edison National Historic Site.

Often, creative periods in history have produced one man who, in his life and labors and character, summed up the dominant impulses and purposes of his time. Leonardo da Vinci was such a man and he became the immortal symbol of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th and 16th Centuries. In his conceptions and achievements we see, as in an enlarging mirror, the special qualities and ideals of his age.

In the same sense, Thomas Edison is the immortal symbol of our Technological Age in the 19th and 20th Centuries. He possessed in extravagant measure those talents, virtues, insights and character traits, most cherished in our land and most pertinent to its destiny.

   
At the Ogden, N. J. ore mines in October, 1891.
   
In his chemical laboratory in 1904. Edison always thought of himself primarily as a chemist. One of his most laborious searches, working on the nickel-alkaline storage battery, involved endless chemical experiments, as did his last great work on finding a domestic source of rubber, which ended in extracting rubber from goldenrod.

He was the poet of technology, seeking out hidden rhythms in nature, combining them in symphonies of invention. It is surely not accidental that Edison’s bursting creativity, like that of da Vinci, overflowed in copious notebooks—2,500 of them—where he jotted down observations, rough sketches, casual thoughts.

The night never darkens on the empire of Edison’s genius. More than any other man, it was he who harnessed electricity, the driving force of this industrial epoch. What could better suggest the catholicity of his role than the common light bulb? In remote lands, as much as in modern cities, it is the light bulb of Edison that has banished the night, that has added years to the productive and social lives of nearly every human being.

No inventory of his inventions, however, can compass the true dimensions of his achievements. Every one of them, even his tentative and uncompleted explorations, became the wellspring of inventions by others. Today, his contributions flow as perpetual tributaries into the main stream of every industry, every science, every technology. Subtract what is Edison’s in our current civilization, and the calendar of history would roll backward by decades.

   
Edison outside his West Orange laboratory with a crew of assistants, taken June 16, 1888 at 5:30 am. At right is Col. George F. Gouraud who was waiting to rush the improved phonograph to England, where he represented Edison’s interests. He immediately recorded that Nation’s greatest citizens, including Gladstone, Tennyson, Florence Nightingale and Sir Arthur Sullivan. These wax cylinders were lost for years in Edison’s West Orange laboratories and discovered only a few years ago and put on tape. The Sullivan is the oldest recording extant.
   
Edison the same morning after 72 hours continuous work improving his wax cylinder phonograph. This intense effort was made because of the growing competition from other phonograph manufacturers since Edison’s achievement of 1877.

Even industries which matured after his lifetime have drawn their sustenance from his genius. One does not usually hear of Edison as a pioneer of radio, television, automation, atomics and the broad field of electronics. Yet his creative imprint is indelible on each and all of them.

His dynamos and batteries have provided the electric power on which they depend. The principles of his carbon transmitter are built into every microphone. In 1889, he established an early alliance with television by demonstrating his invention of the “kinetoscopic” camera, an outgrowth of his search for a means of reproducing motion and sound simultaneously.

His work in sound recording and reproduction remains at the foundation of all broadcasting. The golden tones of Caruso and the musical virtuosity of Toscanini flow with fidelity through the homes of America today, and for all generations hence, because of his basic concept of the phonograph.

As early as 1875, Edison found what he called “etheric force”— that is, electromagnetic manifestations that took him to the frontiers of wireless. In 1885, mark you, sixteen years before Marconi flashed his first wireless signal across the Atlantic, Edison registered a patent on “telegraphy without wires.”

In his notebooks he took cognizance of a strange electrical phenomenon he had detected inside the glass bulb of the incandescent lamp. This evidence of electrons at work became known as the “Edison effect.” Though he did not himself pursue it further, it became the signpost for others to the invention and refinement of the electron tube, subsequently the basis of electronic industries throughout the world.

   
At work in his West Orange laboratory. Many photographs of Edison were unposed; in fact, he often did not know they were being taken. He enjoyed meeting with press, however, whose representatives regularly came to his laboratories in hopes of getting predictions and pronouncements from the man who had become a world fibure by the age of 30. Edison was expected to have opinions about most subjects and they found their way into print; either by interview or by hearsay.
   
Edison in his West Orange laboratory about 1901.

The words which I saw on his wall 33 years ago—“There’s a way to do it better—find it”—remain imprinted in my mind because they are so relevant to what I regard as his most vital and enduring contribution.

His greatest invention, the one most productive and most instructive for our times, was not a single piece of equipment but a unique method of innovation. For it was Edison who first conceived the idea of assigning teams of gifted workers to find “a way to do it better.” In systematizing the quest for new knowledge, he became the father of modern research.

At Menlo Park, just 85 years ago this spring, Edison established the world’s first industrial research laboratory. He assembled a front-rank technical staff whom he used to refer to as his “one hundred earnest men,” and whom others nicknamed “the insomnia squad.”

For his team he set a characteristically demanding goal: “Invent some minor thing every ten days, and some big thing every six months.’’

This was the first attempt to conduct research on an organized basis. Today, the results of that imaginative enterprise are imperishably evident. Massive research laboratories have become the very bone and sinew of scientific-technological progress.

In our country, some 3,000 companies maintain their own research facilities, employing over 300,000 scientists, engineers and supporting personnel. A vast number of universities and government agencies are engaged in systematic research. From the neglected stepchild of industry, research has flourished until it is an industry itself—indeed, today our fastest growing industry.

This year, in the United States alone, $14 billion will be spent on research and development. This is more than our entire national income was at the time Edison conceived the procedure.

Research on this formidable scale has recast the pattern of national progress. New adaptations of mechanization and automation by research teams have increased productivity so that the average worker turns out six times as much in an hour as his great-grandfather did.

If the present tempo is maintained, workers a century hence, and possibly before then, will produce as much in a seven-hour day as they now do in a forty-hour week.

I believe that the next ten years will see more material progress than the last fifty years.

- Computers, operating a thousand times faster than present models, will take over more and more office and factory chores.
- Global television in full color, relayed by orbiting satellites, will spread knowledge as Edison’s bulb has spread light.
- Thermo-electric systems, without any moving parts, will heat and cool the home with unexampled efficiency.
- Electronic tools for medicine will touch off an avalanche of improvements in preventive therapy diagnosis and treatment.

This is only a random sampling of the vast developments now fermenting in hundreds of big and little laboratories, developments that will dwarf those of the past. Even so, they should never obscure the crucial fact that Edison’s team concept would have been meaningless without Edison. The surpassing importance of the individual cannot be omitted from the equation of achievement.

Our ability to mesh the skills of thousands has produced astounding breakthroughs in every area of endeavor. Yet those who live in the fellowship of science know that behind every imposing research institution there is an individual scientist of unusual ability. And far from reducing his value, modern technology has put a premium on his personal creativity.

Today, with the lead-time of survival perilously narrowed, we need more urgently than ever the Edisons who can imbue our research enterprises, as he did, with a high sense of direction and dedication. We must encourage the development of men and women capable of independent, original and critical thought, the type who will see a compelling challenge in Edison’s admonition that “there is a way to do it better”—and who will then go out and find it!

Edison’s message for our time, as I interpret it, is that we must work as a team but we must not lose our sense of the uniqueness of man’s genius, of the supreme value of the individual. In this lies our best safeguard against the deadly regimentation of Communism, It is our best hope for a future of peace, abundance and freedom.

In bestowing on Thomas Edison the immortality of its Hall of Fame, New York University honors not only the towering genius of the man from Menlo Park. It honors the spirit of scientific integrity; it honors the nobility of the questing mind; it honors the selfless search for knowledge that can make this a better and happier world for all mankind.

* * *

   
With the ‘‘Edison Effect” lamp. The discovery of this “effect,” which Edison did not further develop, in 1880 revealed the fundamental principle on which rests the modern art of electronics. This principle was later used by de Forest in devising the vacuum tube.
   
Thomas Alva Edison with laboratory assistants at his “invention factory” in West Orange in 1912. The group became known as the “Insomnia Squad” because of the long hours Edison kept his men working on particularly promising projects. He inspired great enthusiasm among his assistants, but was able to drive himself hardest of all, partially because of his ability to sleep soundly at irregular short intervals.
   
In his chemistry laboratory at Fort Myers, Florida, on March 31, 1931 (the year of Edison’s death): the experiments concern the search for domestic sources of rubber, in which he was encouraged and partially financed by Harvey S. Firestone. Sr., shown here.
   
Out of Edison’s various laboratories from 1869, when he made his first patent application, until 1910, Edison applied for 1,328 separate patents averaging 32 each year or about one every 11 days. At his peak of activity in 1882 lie applied for 141 patents in a single year. The final total of patents actually granted by the end of his life was 1,093, the greatest number ever held by any one man.
   
The inventor continued his researches all of his life, Here, at 84 he directs the work and laboratory assistant in 1931, the year in which he succumbed to uremic poisoning Other disorders on October eighteenth.
   
Edison in a characteristically jovial pose, cupping his hand to his better ear. (The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan)

CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF THOMAS ALVA EDISON

1847 - February 11—born at Milan, Ohio, son of Samuel and Nancy Elliott Edison.

   
Thomas Alva Edison at the age of three in Milan, Ohio.

1859 - A newsboy and “candy butcher” on the train of the Grand Trunk Railway, running between Port Huron, Michigan, and Detroit.

1862 - Printed and published a newspaper, “The Weekly Herald,” on the train—the first newspaper ever printed on a moving train.

   
The train on which young “Al” Edison, as he was then called, sold his candy and newspapers between Port Huron and Detroit. The engine was built in 1860 for the Michigan Central Railroad. (Journal of Locomotive Engineers)
   
Edison as a boy of about 14 printing his Herald’ in a baggage car of the Grand Trunk Railway which ran between Port Huron, Michigan and Detroit. While the train was in Detroit, Edison spent his time in the Public Library reading books, starting, he later said, with the bottom shelf and going straight through the Library. He also bought papers, candy and fruit to sell on the return train trip to Port Huron where his family then lived.
   
Thomas Alva Edison at the age of thirteen in 1860 when his family lived in Port Huron, Michigan.

1862 - August—saved from death the young son of J. U. MacKenzie, Station Agent at Mt. Clemens, Michigan. In gratitude, the father taught Edison telegraphy.

1863 - Used a locomotive whistle to telegraph across the river between Sarnia, Ontario, and Port Huron, when a telegraph cable broke.

1863 - Began a five-year period during which he served as a telegraph operator in various cities of the Central Western States, always studying and experimenting to improve apparatus.

1868 - Made his first patented invention—the Electrical Vote Recorder. Application for patent signed October 11, 1868. No use made of it because legislators did not want votes counted rapidly, which resolved Edison to produce only inventions of practical use.

   
Edison’s first patented invention: the Electrical Vote Recorder, October 11, 1868. The failure of this invention, because legislators did not want to speed up vote-taking, decided Edison to produce only immediately useful inventions.

1870 - Received his first money for an invention—$40,000 paid him by the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company for his stock ticker. Opened a manufacturing shop in Newark where he made stock tickers and telegraph instruments.

1871 - December 25—married Mary Stilwell, daughter of Nicholas Stilwell, of Newark, New Jersey.

   
The Universal Stock Printer of 1871, Edison’s first commercial invention.

1875 - November 22—discovered a previously unknown and unique electrical phenomenon which he called “etheric force.” Twelve years later, this phenomenon was recognized as being due to electric waves in free space. This discovery is the foundation of wireless telegraphy.

1876 - March 7—applied for patent on his invention of the “electric pen.” Patent was granted August 8, same year. Licenses covering the pen were later obtained by the A. B. Dick Company of Chicago, for the manufacture of the mimeograph.

   
Edison’s Electric Pen, the forerunner of the mimeograph, sold by Edison to the A. B. Dick Company of Chicago.

1876 - April—moved from Newark to his newly constructed laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey. The hamlet of Menlo Park thus gained its famed “Wizard,” and it is now part of a municipality named Edison.

   
The home in Menlo Park, N. J. to which Edison moved in 1876 with his first wife, Mary StilweIl Edison, who is standing in the center of the porch. The hamlet thus gained its famous “Wizard” and it is now a part of a municipality named Edison. After his wife’s death in 1884, Edison moved his laboratories to West Orange, leaving this house, never to return.

1877 - April 27—applied for patent on the carbon telephone transmitter which made the telephone commercially practicable. This invention included the basis for the microphone which is used in radio broadcasting.

1877 - December 6—invented the phonograph. Patent was issued by the United States Patent Office within two months after application without a single reference.

   
Edison with one of his wax cylinder phonographs in his recording room.

1879 - Invented the first practical incandescent electric lamp. The invention was perfected October 21, 1879 when the first lamp, containing a filament of carbonized sewing thread and embodying the principles of the modern incandescent lamp, had maintained its incandescence for more than forty hours.

1879 - Invented radical improvements in construction of dynamos, making them suitable for generators for his system of distribution of current for light, heat and power. Invented systems of distribution, regulation and measurement of electric current, including sockets, switches, fuses, etc.

1879 - New Year’s Eve—gave a public demonstration of his electric lighting system in streets and buildings at Menlo Park, New Jersey.

1880 - April 3—invented the magnetic ore separator.

1880 - May 13—started operation of the first passenger electric railways in this country at Menlo Park, New Jersey.

1880 - Ushered in seven strenuous years of invention and endeavor in extending and improving the electric light, heat and power systems. During these years he took out upwards of 300 patents. Of 1,093 patents issued to Thomas A. Edison, 356 deal with electric lighting and power distribution.

   
Front page of “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper,” New York, January 10, 1880. Caption below picture reads: NEW JERSEY.— THE WIZARD OF ELECTRICITY — THOMAS A. EDISON EXPERIMENTING WITH CARBONIZED PAPER FOR His SYSTEM OF ELECTRIC LIGHT. Al HIS LABORITORY, MENLO PARK.— FROM SKETCHES BY OUR SPECIAL ARTIST.— SEE PAGE 353.

1880 - Discovered a previously unknown phenomenon. He found that an independent wire or plate, placed between the legs of the filament of an incandescent lamp, acted as a valve to control the flow of current. This became known as the “Edison Effect.” This discovery covers the fundamental principle on which rests the modern science of electronics.

1882 - January 12—opened the world’s first commercial incandescent lighting and power station at Holborn Viaduct, London, England.

1882 - September 4—commenced the operation of the first commercial central station for incandescent lighting in the United States at 257 Pearl Street, New York City.

1883 - Commenced the installation of central stations all over the United States and the world.

1883 - November 15—filed patent on an electrical indicator using the Edison Effect, the first application in the field of electronics.

1884 - August 9—his wife, Mary Stilwell Edison, died at Menlo Park, New Jersey.

1886 - February 24—married Mina Miller, daughter of Lewis Miller, co-founder of Chautauqua, inventor and manufacturer of agricultural machinery, of Akron, Ohio.

   
With touching formality and grace, Edison presses his suit for the hand of Mina Miller in marriage. (Courtesy of Charles Edison)

1887 - November 24—moved his laboratory to West Orange where, for the first time, Mr. Edison applied his method of invention known as “Organized Research.” During the first four years of his occupancy of his West Orange laboratory, he took out over eighty patents on improvements on the cylinder phonograph. He established a very extensive business in the manufacture and sale of phonographs and records, including dictating machines, shaveable records and shaving machines.

1887 - Patented process for making plate glass.

1889 - October 6—first projection of an experimental motion picture. This was a “talkie” shown at the West, Orange laboratory; the picture was accompanied by synchronized sound from a phonograph record.

   
The world’s first motion picture camera, Edison’s 1889 Strip Kinetograph. This original machine, employing horizontal rather than vertical film strips, is on display at Edison’s West Orange Laboratory.

1891 - July 31—applied for patent on the motion picture camera. By the invention of this mechanism, with a continuous tape-like film, originated by Eastman, it became possible to take and reproduce motion pictures as we have them today.

   
Edison at his ore milling works in Ogden, N. J. about 1892.

1894 - April 14—first commercial showing of motion pictures took place with the opening of a “peephole” Kinetoscope parlor at 1155 Broadway, New York City.

1896 - Experimented with the X-ray discovered by Roentgen in 1895. Developed the fluoroscope which invention Mr. Edison did not patent, choosing to leave it to public domain because of its universal need in medicine and surgery.

1896 - May 16—applied for a patent on the first fluorescent electric lamp. This invention sprang directly from his work on the fluoroscope.

   
Edison and his fluorescent lamp.

1900 - This year marked the beginning of a ten-year period of work which resulted in the invention of the Edison nickel-iron-alkaline storage battery and its commercial introduction. The alkaline battery is widely employed as a power source in mine haulage, inter- and intra-plant transportation, for railway train car lighting and air conditioning, signalling services and many other industrial applications.

   
Edison takes his youngest son, Theodore, for a ride in an Edison battery-powered electric car on the grounds of his New Jersey estate, “Glenmont.” Theodore Edison is today a research scientist in West Orange near his father’s famous laboratory.
   
Mrs. Thomas Alva Edison in 1906 on one of her relatively rare visits to her husband’s laboratory.
   
The Edison family about 1907, on the conservatory steps of “Glenmont,” the estate Edison bought just before his second marriage in 1886. Left to right, Madeleine, Mrs. Mina Miller Edison, Theodore, Charles and Thomas Alva Edison. Edison throughout his life devoted long hours, even days, to continuous laboratory research. However, Mrs. Edison later said of him: “He labored unceasingly to shove more than 60 minutes into an hour . . . Impatience drove him to try to accomplish in a day that which took other men a week . . . Yet with all his driving impatience, he never forgot how to be patient with those with whom he lived and worked, and with those he loved. For me, this was his mark of true genius.”

1908 - Prefabricated housing begins with Portland cement developed by Edison.

   
The inventor tries his hand at pitching in a baseball game for his employees on August 12, 1912 in West Orange.
   
Edison tosses out the first ball at a picnic of his company employees in West Orange, N. J. in 1914. Edison’s work allowed little or no time for baseball and other sports. An attempt by his family to interest him in golf for relaxation failed completely. His improved Portland Cement was used in the construction of Yankee Stadium in New York and other large structures.

1914 - Developed a process for the manufacture of synthetic carbolic acid and aniline dyes. Designed a plant, and within a month was producing a ton a day to help overcome the acute shortage due to the World War.

1914 - Invented the Telescribe, combining the telephone and the dictating phonograph, thus permitting the recording of both sides of telephone messages.

1915 - Established plants for the manufacture of fundamental coal-tar derivatives vital to many industries previously dependent on foreign sources. These coal-tar products were needed later for the production of wartime explosives. Mr. Edison’s work in this field is recognized as having paved the way for the important development of the coal-tar chemical industry in the United States today.

1915 - Became President of the Naval Consulting Board, at the request of Josephus Daniels, then Secretary of the Navy. During the war years, he did a large amount of work connected with national defense, particularly with reference to special experiments on over forty major war problems for the United States Government. On leaving Naval Consuiting Board in 1918, advocated permanent research board from which suggestion the present naval research facilities developed.

   
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Alva Edison in 1917 on the converted yacht “Sachem,” made available to the inventor by the U. S. Navy, while he was serving as head of the Naval Consulting Board. Edison developed 39 devices to improve the strength of the Navy in World War I, and later championed the establishment of the Office of Naval Research on a permanent basis.
   
On the grounds of his home, “Glenmont,” in June, 1917, Edison in an uncharacteristic moment of repose. Located about a half-mile from his laboratories, the estate is now the Edison Home National Historic Site.
   
A daily routine: like all his employees, Thomas Alva Edison punches the time clock on November 2, 1921 at his West Orange laboratories. Sign on the clock forbids cigarette smoking, of which Edison sternly disapproved, although cigars apparently were all right. This building, which is maintained exactly as Edison left it by the National Park Service, also houses Edison’s immense personal library of 10,000 volumes. machine shops, a recording studio and offices.

1926 - Began experiment in producing rubber from native plants. Experimented with over 17,000 plant specimens, selecting goldenrod. Before his death he produced rubber which was vulcanized from goldenrod grown in his experimental gardens at Fort Myers, Florida.

   
The inventor’s last great search—for a domestic source of natural rubber— produced this 13-foot high goldenrod plant.
   
On Edison’s 81st birthday, he and Harvey S. Firestone, Sr. examine the rubber-bearing plants in the Edison Botanical Gardens at Fort Myers, Florida, where the inventor established a winter home and laboratory. The house, gardens and laboratory are now open to the public.

1928 - October 20—presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor by Andrew W. Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury.

1929 - October 21—commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the incandescent lamp and in the presence of President Hoover, Henry Ford and other world leaders, Mr. Edison re-enacted the making of the first practical incandescent lamp, and dedicated the Edison Institute (Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village) erected in his honor by Henry Ford at Dearborn.

   
Mr. and Mrs. Edison with President and Mrs. Herbert Hoover are welcomed to Dearborn in 1929 by Henry Ford for “Light’s Golden Jubilee” the worldwide celebration of Edison’s invention of the incandescent lamp. Man second from left is engineer who drove the group to Greenfield Village on the same train on which Edison had sold papers and candy as a boy.

1931 - October 18—died at Llewellyn Park, West Orange, New Jersey at the age of eighty-four; survived by his wife, Mina Miller Edison; his four sons, Thomas Alva, Jr., William Leslie, Charles and Theodore, and his daughters, Marion Edison Oser and Madeleine Edison Sloane.

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