How Thomas Edison is helping us through the pandemic

Sparta. Learn how “the Wizard of Menlo Park” is still making his genius felt today at the Sparta Historical Society’s new exhibit.

Sparta /
04 Jun 2020 | 03:34

Thomas Edison’s life’s work more than a hundred years ago has made staying home more interesting. And he laid the foundation for today’s R&D labs that are developing COVID-19 tests and vaccines.

After more than two months of stay-at-home restrictions, take a moment to thank Thomas Edison, 1847-1931. Why? Have you listened to music, watched movies, and phoned in food orders? Used more electricity than usual Zooming, Google Meeting, Facetiming and learning online? Made your own videos for TikTok or YouTube?

In 1876, Edison set up his home and research laboratory in Menlo Park, located within Edison Township, N.J. He soon earned the nickname “the Wizard of Menlo Park.” There Edison made some of his most important inventions, including recording and storing sound, a longer-lasting light bulb, and the movie camera -- more than 400 in all. Most were huge successes that made life easier and more enjoyable for every family in America and beyond.

In many cases, Edison’s genius was in taking a new technology that someone else had pioneered and developing a superior way of doing the same thing. For example, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876. Edison improved Bell’s transmitter, and those improvements were in telephones until the 1980s. Our daily lives also rely on his innovative improvements in reliable alkaline batteries and electrical power systems.

However, the Menlo Park lab was possibly his most important contribution: inventing a new process to come up with inventions and commercialize them. Thomas Edison was the first to create a facility with a team to systematically research practical solutions and develop commercial applications for both existing and new concepts. Today R&D labs around the world are working tirelessly to develop vaccines to enable a medical end to this pandemic.

This premier inventor is the inspiration for the Sparta Historical Society’s new exhibit, “Thomas A. Edison: The Person, The Vision and His Genius” at The Van Kirk Homestead Museum in Sparta. Professionally curated with rare treasures, it will be open every second and fourth Sunday into December, from 1 to 4 p.m. with a 2 p.m. talk.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, check vankirkmuseum.org for the opening date of this exhibition and other events. For further details or group reservations, call 973-726-0883 or email spartahistoricalsocnj@gmail.com. The museum is located at 336 Main Street (Route 517, use middle school driveway), Sparta.