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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 435

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This is the grave of Thomas Edison.

So, what does one even say about Thomas Edison, especially when one is on a research trip across the country? Why even go over the entire biography in this setting? Edison was obviously a critical transitional figure in American history. For me, his role in the creation and marketing of early film is personally incredibly meaningful. Sure, he tried to monopolize it, but if nothing else, Thomas Edison really, really loved inventing things that would make him a lot of money. Until the very end of his life, he was looking for the big chance. But hey, what’s more American than that? Then of course there’s the phonograph, which as a huge musical person is obviously critical to my life. Oh yeah, and the light bulb. And so many other things. I know people get all into the electrical currency controversy, but I’m basically whatever on things like that. There is little I find more tiresome in popular depictions of the past than the repeated discussion of the Edison v. Tesla rivalry. He never did manage to get the rubber source going that Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone invested in, but they knew that in the long run, Edison was a good bet. Not every idea worked out, but more than enough did. Ford himself had worked in the Edison machine in the late 1890s for 8 years.

One thing I can say for sure about Edison is that visiting his laboratory is really fantastic. Basically, when he died, they just closed down the factory. Obviously not all of it still exists, but the main buildings do and it is really really cool to visit and see his lab and some example of his work. I highly recommend it the next time you are in New Jersey. And that’s not only because there is little else one would possibly want to do in that state.

He was also a pretty weird and interesting guy. He was basically an atheist at a time when that was not something many people admitted to. He didn’t either, or not quite. He was more of a late-era deist, someone heavily influenced by Thomas Paine. He was also interested in weird spirituality stuff and communication with the dead, though this is somewhat disputed. He avoided working on anything to help the defense industry as he thought of himself as a peace advocate. He was a vegetarian and deeply interested in monetary reform. He also loved Birth of a Nation, calling it his favorite movie, which is a bit hard to stomach. Edison died in 1931.

Anyway, there is really so, so, so much one could discuss, so I am going to leave it to comments and hope that something less than a full biography is forgivable, but rare days in the archives of the Northwest trumps all other concerns.

Thomas Edison is buried at his home in West Orange, New Jersey.

If you would like this series to discuss other inventors, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Alexander Graham Bell is buried on his estate in Nova Scotia while Samuel Morse is in Brooklyn. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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