What Edison Was Up To In His New Jersey Labs

Thomas Edison was awarded 1,093 patents in his lifetime, more than any other person, before or since. More than half were for inventions developed at his West Orange, N.J., laboratories, including the fluoroscope, an early X-ray machine, and the Ediphone, an early version of the dictating machine, which would later be adapted to serve as a tape-recorder and telephone answering machine.

Edison also perfected some of his earlier inventions here. He created improvements to the telephone and telegraph, improved ore-milling and cement-making technologies, and created his own line of "Edicraft" household appliances.

Among the more notable developments to emerge from these labs are:

Motion pictures. In 1889, Edison invented the "kinetoscope," which for the first time strung together photographs to create moving pictures. In 1893, he built the first movie studio, called Black Maria, a garage-sized building on rollers that could spin 360 degrees in order to follow the sun. (the original was destroyed in 1903, but a replica is still on display).

In 1903, he filmed "The Great Train Robbery," considered one of the first feature films. He also invented a number of projectors and massive metal cones (all on display in one room here), to allow sound to accompany his movies.

The phonograph. Although Edison had already developed a phonograph that recorded and replayed sound on wax cylinders, he took the invention to the next stage here and developed the disk phonograph in 1888 that played hard, vinyl disks. Originally designed as a business machine, it eventually brought music into people's homes.

Nickel-iron-alkaline battery. Edison spent 10 years and conducted 50,000 experiments to perfect a battery for the electric cars being built at the turn of the century. In 1910, he developed the nickel-iron-alkaline battery, which proved to be too weak to start gasoline engines but became standard in the railroad and mining industries, and was a precursor to the alkaline batteries used in today's boomboxes.

The research-and-development facility. Although he never sought a patent for the concept, Edison's West Orange labs became the model for the industrial research labs now commonplace in the business world. Teams of researchers working together replaced the old method of the lone inventor working in isolation.

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