Sunday, July 27, 2008

Edison's Fort Meyer, Florida Laboratory

According to the original 1933 'Edison Institute Museum & Village' guidebook, "This laboratory was a take-down type of building, made in Maine and shipped to Fort Meyers, Florida, where it was set up in 1884-85. Here, Mr. Edison worked during his winter sojourns in the warmer climate, and here he perfected his wax record phonograph - an improvement over the tin foil machine."
Edison also undertook numerous experiments in botanical science - during WWI he developed a formula for producing synthetic rubber from the goldenrod plant.
The building is preserved with its original equipment and furnishings, including Mr. Edison's mahogany desk, pine chair, drafting table mounted on wooden horses, and stool.
Both Edison and Ford had cottages in Fort Meyers and often took vacations together with their wives.

For more information on Edison at Greenfield Village, please click the links below:
Edison Fort Meyers Laboratory
Edison Homestead
Edison Illuminating Company
Edison Menlo Park Laboratory
Edison Menlo Park Glass House
Edison Menlo Park Machine Shop
Edison Menlo Park Woodworking Shop
Edison Menlo Park Office and Library


Thomas Edison's Menlo Park Office and Library

The original brick building, erected the same year as the machine shop - 1878 - was one of the unfortunate structures to disappear nearly completely, sans one lone shutter, from the compound in New Jersey. When reconstructing this 'nerve center of Menlo Park,' Just like the other reconstructed buildings, Mr. Ford relied heavily on old photographs, newspaper etches, and memories of those who were there in the 1870's and 1880's, including Thomas Edison himself.
To keep this as authentic as he could, Ford arranged to have bricks supplied by the same firm that furnished the originals, and, after the structure had been completed, placed a single slat from the original 'lone shutter' in each of the rebuilt shutters to shade the windows.

All involved were quite satisfied at the end result.
(By the way, notice, in the top picture of the office/library, the Sarah Jordan Boarding House in the background).

The first floor was a combined accounting office and reception area for visitors and journalists. It was also where his bookkeepers kept track of the finances. Remember, Edison's men didn't work for free!

A view from both sides of the counter!

The second floor of this building (unreachable at this time for photographs) was where the library was located. This was where Edison kept his own desk and maintained books and journals for his research.Publicity, detailed patents, and the sales of (and the granting of) rights also took place on the first floor.
Period correct furniture - as close to the originals as possible - are positioned as Edison and his men remembered throughout the structure.

I'm not sure how much of the furniture are originals to Edison, but I would be willing to bet at least a number of them are.

This collection of work in the Menlo Park complex at Greenfield Village, even though most are not totally original, shows the true admiration that Henry Ford had toward his good friend, Thomas Edison.

Edison's Menlo Park Machine Shop

It is truly unfortunate that, except for the Sarah Jordan Boarding House and the glass house, the Menlo Park buildings were dismantled for use elsewhere or were simply torn down. Fortunately, Henry Ford was able to locate much of the material used to construct the original buildings.
This machine shop, an authentic replication of the original - which was built in 1878, after he received financing from Wall Street - was run by around a dozen journeymen machinists and numerous apprentices along with general laborers.

The lathes, drills, milling machines, and planers were powerful enough to cut and shape iron and steel with great precision. The power to run such equipment was generated by a 75 horsepwer, sixteen foot long boiler that provided the steam for the steam engine, originally made in Massachusetts. It is located behind the paned glass seen in the above photo.

The foreman, a Swiss-trained master machinist named John Kruesi, ran the shop with an iron hand, directing the workers , monitoring the progress of specific projects, and keeping track of materials and tools. When Edison or one of his assistants had an idea, it was Kruesi that figured out how to make it.

Edison Menlo Park Woodworking Shop

Another reproduction from the Menlo Park compound run by Thomas Edison, this woodworking shop, originally built ca 1876, housed skilled woodworkers to make models, parts, and patterns for the different experiments that Mr. Edison and his crew were working on. Using traditional hand tools with hand or foot powered machines, this wood shop shows Edison's continued reliance on traditional crafts to move the world into the future as the master craftsmen made wooden objects needed by Edison's laboratory operations.
It is quite astounding to think that it took traditional means, such as wood working, to create a new future, one that would differentiate the 19th century from the 20th century.
For more information on Edison at Greenfield Village, please click the links below:
Edison Fort Meyers Laboratory
Edison Homestead
Edison Illuminating Company
Edison Menlo Park Laboratory
Edison Menlo Park Glass House
Edison Menlo Park Machine Shop
Edison Menlo Park Woodworking Shop
Edison Menlo Park Office and Library
Sarah Jordan Boarding House


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Edison Menlo Park Glass House

I believe this is only one of two authentic buildings that remained intact following the departure of Thomas Edison and his crew in 1886. That makes this building is a true historic structure, since most of the original structures of the Menlo Park complex were, as stated previously, taken apart with the wood used for other purposes. Mr. Ford searched far and wide and located most of the original boards and purchased them for the replicated buildings now found in the Village.
Built in 1876, this glass house was where Edison's men performed the traditional craft of glassmaking, needed for glass bulbs, tubing, and hundreds of other glass implements for Mr. Edison's experiments.
It was during this time that four men - two journeymen glassblowers and two assistants - worked under the watchful eye of a master craftsman named Ludwig Boehm, who was considered quite the temperamental German immigrant.

Ludwig was replaced in 1880 by an American glassworker named William Holzer.

Again, this building lay in exact proximity to the other Menlo Park structures as they originally stood in New Jersey.

For more information on Edison at Greenfield Village, please click the links below:
Edison Fort Meyers Laboratory
Edison Homestead
Edison Illuminating Company
Edison Menlo Park Laboratory
Edison Menlo Park Glass House
Edison Menlo Park Machine Shop
Edison Menlo Park Woodworking Shop
Edison Menlo Park Office and Library


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sarah Jordan Boarding House

This house, built in 1870, originally stood near the laboratory where Thomas Edison and his men toiled in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Widowed in 1877, "Aunt Sally," as Sarah was known, lived in Newark, and was sent for in 1878 by her distant relative, Thomas Edison, to run a place for his workers to eat and sleep. With little employment opportunities for women, Mrs. Jordan accepted the offer and opened the home as a boarding house that same year.
Several of Edison's single employees lived here and would sleep two to three to a bed in the six rooms on the second floor. In fact, at the height of the laboratory's activities in 1880, sixteen boarders called this structure 'home.'
Edison's house, a good-sized residence, was down the road a short ways. Daily, the 'Wizard of Menlo Park' passed the Jordan Boarding House to and from his laboratory, walking atop the wood-plank walk, wearing a skull cap or a farmer's wide-brimmed straw hat, both hands shoved in his front pockets "as was the style at that time" - Francis Jehl.

Some of the rooms could get pretty messy!

I'd like to take a little time here to give a first-hand account direct from one of Edison's workers, Mr. Francis Jehl, on what it was like to stay at the Jordan Boarding House:

I turned in the far gate and set foot for the first time on the porch of the Jordan Boarding House which was to become my home for more than a year and which during that period was to achieve fame as the first dwelling house ever lighted by electricity.
In a few moments I was introducing myself to a slight, frail little woman who was the proprietress. Business was not yet brisk and she was glad to see a new lodger. She escorted me up the narrow winding stairs and into a large room at the front of the home. Although I did not know it at the time, I came later to the conclusion that the room she gave me was the best she had. It looked over the porch and had an additional window on the far side, making three windows in all. The furnishings were plain but ample - large clean bed, commode with wash bowl and water pitcher, bureau and a few chairs. Board and room, I learned, were to cost five or six dollars a week.
I believe this was the room in which Mr. Jehl had while as a boarder here

I accepted the room at once and after unpacking my satchel by candle light and hanging up my clothes, went downstairs and took a seat in the dining room where two or three men were already at the table. By that time darkness had fallen and a coal oil lamp furnished the light for our supper.
Perhaps a brief explanation about the plan of Mrs. Jordan's boarding house might not be out of place here. It comprised two separate apartments, each unit in itself. One was shut apart from the other and the communicating doors were usually kept locked. In one half lived Mrs. Jordan and her daughter, and the other was given over to the boarders. 
"Aunt Sally's" family sitting room
This is where the boarders gathered for relaxation

Occasionally the door between the two front rooms downstairs was unlocked and that on the family side was made available to lodgers or visitors as a sitting room. The influx of lodgers taxed the capacity of the little dwelling and it was necessary to use the original sitting room as an overflow dining room to make possible a second dining table at meal time.

Sarah's Room
While her boarders slept upstairs, Sarah, her daughter, Ida, and a domestic servant named Kate Williams slept in bedrooms on the main floor. There was, as stated in the above reminisce, a sitting room for the men as well, separate from the women, where they could play cards, smoke, maybe have a drink, and enjoy conversation that sometimes could've been objectionable for feminine ears.

Reasons why boarders rarely were allowed in the woman's part of the house was due to the differences between the two lifestyles of the boarders and the owners, which was striking.

~Part of the electrically-lighted kitchen~

Mrs. Jordan also made extra money by opening up a portion of this house as a lunch room, feeding hungry travelers who happened by. Of course, they would eat on the boarder side of the house, except when there were a great many that showed.

The dining area

From Mr. Jehl: The whistle, calling the mechanics and workmen to their tasks in the machine shop, blew at seven o'clock in the morning. Those working in the laboratory with Mr. Edison did not follow its summons for they were likely to remain long after hours; but no matter how late they worked the night before, they usually rose early in the morning to be on hand for breakfast. The first who got to the table had the choice helpings and sometimes could squeeze in a second helping before the late comers arrived.
Supper was a bountiful meal with meat, vegetables, and fruit framing the main dishes. The big meal of the day - dinner - was at noon when soup, potatoes, and the pies, for which Mrs. Jordan was noted, were served.
After the meal we sat for a time in the living room While Mrs. Jordan and her little ten-year-old daughter did the dishes in the kitchen just beyond.

One can just imagine the bustling of activity that took place here; cooking, cleaning, washing, and mending endlessly, for Mrs. Jordan cleaned up after these Edison workers besides cooking their meals.
I'm sure, however, that it was in the evenings that Sarah, Ida, and Kate enjoyed the most...

~The above photo shows the family sitting area from a different angle~

This house has the distinction of being one of the first (if not the first) home in the world to be lighted by Edison's newly perfected electrical system and incandescent light bulb. This took place on December 31st, 1879; after years of work and thousands of experiments, Edison finally was able to give the first public demonstration of the incandescent light bulb. An incandescent light has a thread-like object, or filament, that gives off light when heated to incandescence (hot enough to emit light) by an electric current. A steam engine in the machine shop (see link at the bottom of this posting) was used to drive three direct current dynamos which provided the electricity needed to light the bulbs.

At this very same Boarding House an electrified kerosene chandelier was attached to exposed wiring in the dining room.

When it was brought to Greenfield Village with the other Edison buildings in 1929. Mrs. Jordan's boarding house was placed in the Village in the same proximity as to where it originally stood with the buildings in which Edison worked. Sarah's daughter, Ida Jordan Day, donated (or sold to Mr. Ford) many original furnishings and pieces that belonged to the Jordan family. She also arranged the pieces in the way she remembered them as a teenager back in Menlo Park.
It is a true historical piece of late Victorian Americana at its finest.

(A fun-fact-from-Ken: an aide of Mr. Ford, Jimmy Humberstone - considered to be Greenfield Village's first curator - was asked by Ford to live on site. Jimmy and his new bride lived at Mrs. Jordan's Boarding House once it was re-erected in the Village, and on May 26, 1929, they had a child and named him James Jordan Humberstone!)

For more information on Edison at Greenfield Village, please click the links below:
Edison Fort Meyers Laboratory
Edison Homestead
Edison Illuminating Company
Edison Menlo Park Laboratory
Edison Menlo Park Glass House
Edison Menlo Park Machine Shop
Edison Menlo Park Woodworking Shop
Edison Menlo Park Office and Library


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Menlo Park Laboratory

Thomas Edison was Henry Ford's life-long hero and, as adults, were very close friends. And when Mr. Ford formed the idea for his magnificent museum he knew he wanted to pay tribute to this greatest of all inventors. What better way to do this than to restore the "factory" where so many of his greatest inventions took place?

In March of 1928, Ford began the restoration process. He wanted to reconstruct the Menlo Park complex where Edison and his skilled helpers worked at inventing "the future" from the years 1876 to 1886, and he wanted to do it in every minute detail.
To give a quick bit of history of the lay out of this laboratory, the first floor was used for mainly testing the products as well as measuring and processing. A small cubby was also used for Edison's original office.
It was on the 2nd floor that the real excitement took place, for it was here that Edison's workers had separate work stations for specific projects, oftentimes working throughout the night on experiments.
Edison had a pipe organ installed for entertainment during their few breaks. The men - Edison included - would take turns picking out a tune on the organ while everyone else sang.

It was unfortunate that the original site was nearly completely dismantled not too many years after Edison's move to West Orange, New Jersey in 1887 by neighboring farmers. In fact, it was only a year after Edison had removed himself cows began to wander amongst the buildings of the complex, and a chicken farmer even allowed his flock to make the laboratory their home! Soon after many local residents began using the quickly dilapidating building's boards to repair their own deteriorating barns and hen houses. A severe storm blew what was left of the building over in 1913.
Luckily, with Mr. Edison's help, many of the original boards were found, including some that were in storage, while others were regained through purchase of the sheds and other farm buildings mentioned above.
Edison himself supervised the reconstruction.
Ford was also able to locate or find exact replicas, through the aid of photographs and the memories of those who worked there, of the furniture, tools, and other artifacts that once played an important role inside the lab.

Excavators dug through the original ground and not only found thousands of pieces of Edison's trash and other original "relics" from the lab that had been thrown out (which were gathered and shipped to Dearborn), but they could also see how the original buildings were positioned.
Once they were aligned in Greenfield Village in the same directional orientation as they were in New Jersey (including carloads of New Jersey clay from the original grounds!), the buildings became the focal point on what would be called "the greatest and most significant single preservation effort in America."

The organ in the above photo was there because Edison believed that entertainment was necessary to break up the day.

Once restored, Mr. Ford asked the great inventor what he thought of the reconstruction to which Mr. Edison replied that it was 99% correct. Wondering about that 1% that wasn't right, Ford questioned Edison what was not correct.
"It was never this clean!" Mr. Edison told him.

On the rainy night of the grand opening of Greenfield Village - October 21, 1929 - Edison, who was deeply honored and moved by the tribute given to him that evening, reenacted the lighting of the first incandescent light, which originally took place 50 years ago on that date in, pretty much, this very same building. Henry Ford and President Hoover were right there in the room with him while this event was nationally broadcast on radio. After the glorious moment took place, Ford ordered his men to have the chair upon which Edison sat for the reenactment to be nailed to the floor as is.

It remains there to this day. (see picture above)

There are certain times throughout the year that one can speak into a replica Edison phonograph and hear the playback, much as Edison did back in 1877.

The Edison Phonograph
Although the laboratory is not 100% original, it was close enough to perfect for Edison and his former helpers. Many of the items - bottles and such - upon the shelves are the very same that Edison had in the laboratory in the early 1880's. The idea that it was in this building (in all reality, it really was this building when you think about it) that Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light, the phonograph, the stock ticker, a forerunner of the telephone, and over 400 other items, is enough to send chills down one's back upon entering the complex.
For more information on Edison at Greenfield Village, please click the links below:


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Phoenixville Post Office (and Apothecary)

From Phoenixville, Connecticut came the building, originally built in 1825, of the local apothecary. An apothecary was one that prepared and sold remedies and other medicinal treatments, not unlike our modern pharmacist. They would offer medical advice as well if no doctor was readily available. In early settlements whenever a settler fell ill and needed an immediate cure they headed for the apothecary shop where rows of drawers containing drugs made from roots, plants, berries and bark - often grown by the apothecary himself or collected from the countryside - lined the walls. And on shelves were bottles of nerve 'vitalizers,' heart remedies, rheumatic syrups, jars for leeches, and lung balm (among other things). The chemist would mix his cures right there inside this building.

Apothecaries were not as knowledgeable as doctors and therefore would not charge as much as a doctor's pay. This being the case, there was no formal training to become an apothecary; they would take on an apprentice who would receive on the job training. Typical for an apprentice, they would begin their career doing the mundane jobs of sweeping and general cleaning of the shop, but eventually would graduate to the more important tasks of the profession.
This particular structure also became the town post office in November of 1850, run by Monroe Latham and his wife, Sarah. It remained an apothecary while serving as a post office.

In the 19th century, mail delivery was quite different than today. Folks usually went to the post office to retrieve their mail rather than had it delivered, especially in the small, more rural towns. Because of the slow travel mode of the times, for a postmaster to deliver a letter to one of the many residents that lived a few miles out of town would take a day or more to deliver - hardly worth it for just one letter. It was much more convenient for patrons to visit the post office when visiting the town to get their provisions.

Like the general store, the post office was also the place to get the latest news and gossip and speak of the latest political happenings of the day.

When one of Henry Ford's assistants discovered the unused building (for it ended its use as an apothecary in 1910 and as a post office in 1916), the original furnishings of the post office (including the desk and even the waste baskets!) were still intact and brought to Dearborn with the building. Unfortunately, the bottles and equipment of the apothecary was no longer there and were added after the move.
Dismantling of this building began in 1928 and it was up in the Village, ready for October 21st, 1929 opening day.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Lincoln Courthouse aka Logan County Courthouse

This is no ordinary historical structure...
Wanting a building that was associated with our 16th President Abraham Lincoln, Ford found a forgotten and dilapidated structure that was, in 1929, being used as a private residence.
Research showed that Abraham Lincoln once practiced law in this walnut clapboard building, which was built in 1840, when he was a young attorney. Mr. Lincoln was a circuit-riding lawyer and would travel upon his horse to the tiny country towns within a certain perimeter - Lincoln and the other handful of circuit riding lawyer companions with him covered the Eighth Judicial Circuit which covered around 11,000 square miles - and they would follow Judge David Davis to the courthouses of the towns.
Life on the road was not easy for Lincoln and the other circuit-riding lawyers. The roads, which could hardly be called roads by today's standards, were deep with snow in the winter, nothing but mud in the spring, and filled with mouth-eating dust in the summer. At night the group would lodge where ever they could: tavern, cabin, farm out building.

Court was in session only twice a year, and could be a raucous affair in the first three quarters of the 19th century. It was quite entertaining for the folks sitting on the hard wood benches or peeking through the windows (which were usually opened due to the heat from all of the bodies inside). In fact, it was quite the "to do" for the country townsfolk, for this was about the only time a small town could have some real big-time excitement. People from all around the neighboring communities would travel to the court building to be enthralled by the legal battles at hand; I liken it to a modern-day court-room television drama that are always so popular today. Of course, the local businesses always had red-letter days during the time the court was in session as well.
When court was not in session, this building from Logan County served the Postville, Illinois community as a church and assembly hall. It was in 1848 that the county seat was moved, and the building went through numerous incarnations including a post office, general store, school, and jail (!).
By the time Mr. Ford obtained it in 1929, this historical structure had become a private home.

When the residents of what was now known as Lincoln, Illinois (formerly known as Postville) heard of Mr. Ford's purchasing the building, they suddenly became interested in it and tried to legally prevent Ford from removing it to Dearborn, Michigan. One columnist from a local paper stated: Because the city of Lincoln did not realize its heritage, the building has been kept up by a private citizen. Henry Ford entered the scene and purchased the building to move to his historic museum at Dearborn, Michigan. He plans to tear it down and rebuild it in Michigan, but when he does, Illinois loses another famous homesite, not through fire, but through the inaction of its own people.
Another paper wrote: Mr. Ford's decision to move the building had left this city heartsick. Judge and Mrs. T.T. Beach, who sold the property to Ford, said the proposal to remove the building was not mentioned at the time of the sale. "It was to our understanding that the Ford interests were to restore the courthouse to its original appearance and to maintain it here where Mr. Lincoln was the lawyer for the town's proprietors and our friend and neighbor," Judge Beach said.
But Ford owned the building now, and could do as he pleased.

As Ed Cutler recalled: "The first day we had the roof off. I got wind of some gang of people getting an injunction against us to stop it because they realized that we were going to cart that thing away to Greenfield Village. By the time they had their legal end of it taken care of, we had the walls and the whole thing flattened to the ground and were carting it off. We beat them to it."
The structure was up in time for the opening of the Village in the fall of 1929. Ford spared no expense restoring this structure: even the original plaster was preserved, having it reground with new plaster and included in the restoration.

Some of the furnishings in this building are original Lincoln associated pieces: the John Birge wall clock, the empire chairs, and the swivel-top card table with brass paw feet are from Lincoln's Springfield home. Also, the walnut corner cupboard was made by Abraham and his father.
Up until the 1980's, the infamous "Lincoln Rocker" was housed here. It is now in a glass-enclosed, temperature moderated case inside the Henry Ford Museum (more on the chair in a future chapter).

By the way, in the early 1950's the state of Illinois built a replica of the building on the original site. The builders visited the original courthouse in its new Greenfield Village location armed with cameras, measuring tape, and other tools of the trade for replication.

The Lincoln/Logan County Courthouse is a true piece of Americana, and we are very lucky that Mr. Ford came along to restore it. As a Detroit News article stated in 1953 during the dedication of the replica building in Lincoln, Illinois: At a dedication ceremony Thursday in Lincoln, Illinois, a rare bit of historical irony will become a matter of historical record. Citizens of that small Illinois town will gather in solemnity to dedicate a replica of the old Logan County courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law for eight years. The irony lies in the fact that the original courthouse now stands in Greenfield Village at Dearborn. Residents of Lincoln ignored the old building as a bit of Americana until the late Henry Ford, in 1929, bought it for his collection of memorabilia. Other organizations had chances to salvage the building but none took action. Not until the building was gone did they sense the historical significance of the building.
And that's nothing new, is it?
My opinion? Thank God Henry Ford did save this building, whether he removed it from its original location or not, for there is not another original like it anywhere else in the world. And who knows what outcome would have beheld this historical gem.