Edison's first inventions were the transmitter and receiver for the automatic telegraph, the quadruplex system of transmitting four simultaneous messages, and an improved stock-ticker system. In 1877 he invented the carbon telephone transmitter (see microphone) for the Western Union Telegraph Company. His phonograph (patented 1878) was notable as the first successful instrument of its kind.
In 1879, Edison created the first commercially practical incandescent lamp (with a carbon filament). For use with it he developed a complete electrical distribution system for light and power, including generators, motors, light sockets with the Edison base, junction boxes, safety fuses, underground conductors, and other devices. The crowning achievement of his work in this field was the Pearl St. plant (1881-82) in New York City, the first permanent central electric-light power plant in the world. He also built and operated (1880) an experimental electric railroad, and produced a superior storage battery of iron and nickel with an alkaline electrolyte.
Other significant inventions include the Kinetoscope, or peep-show machine. Edison later demonstrated experimentally the synchronization of motion pictures and sound, and talking pictures were based on this work. During World War I he helped to develop the manufacture in the United States of chemicals previously imported; he also served as head of the U.S. navy consulting board concerned with ship defenses against torpedoes and mines. Edison later worked on the production of rubber from American plants, notably goldenrod.
Edison held over 1,300 U.S. and foreign patents, and his workshops at Menlo Park (1876) and West Orange, N.J. (1887), were significant as forerunners of the modern industrial research laboratory in which teams of workers, rather than a lone inventor, systematically investigate a given subject. An Edison memorial tower and light was erected (1938) in Menlo Park, N.J.; Edison's laboratory and other buildings associated with his career are preserved or replicated in Greenfield Village. Some of his various companies were consolidated to form the General Electric Company (GE).
See the autobiographical Diary and Sundry Observations (ed. by D. D. Runes, 1948, repr. 1968); his papers, ed. by R. V. Jenkins et al. (4 vol., 1989-); biography by R. Silverberg (1967); W. Wachhorst, Thomas Alva Edison: An American Myth (1981).
It was built in 1938 and dedicated on February 11, 1938, on the inventor's 91st birthday. The 131-foot tall tower is at the exact spot where the Menlo Park laboratory was located. After Edison and his staff left in 1884, the original buildings deteriorated until by 1925 all the buildings had either collapsed or burned. The tower's pinnacle is meant to represent an incandescent light bulb.
Originally, the tower was not only a tribute to the incandescent light, but also recorded sound. It had speakers loud enough to be heard two miles away, but was discontinued to avoid noise pollution, according to a 2004 Weird NJ magazine.
The museum showcases many of Thomas Edison's creations including the phonograph and some of his light bulbs, as well as memorabilia relating to Edison and his inventions. The museum also showcases several images taken of Edison's property and inventions.
Nearby the tower are some modern walking trails, upon which visitors are free to enjoy the nature that Thomas Edison enjoyed. The trail is a short path the leads through a small patch of woods near the museum.
The Edison Museum is the subject of a song ("The Edison Museum") on the They Might Be Giants 1999 album Long Tall Weekend (and was later re-released on their 2002 album No!) which was at one point performed at the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, New Jersey and recorded there to wax cylinder. Another song by They Might Be Giants, "I Can Hear You" was similarly recorded to Wax cylinder at the Edison National Historic Site in 1996. The recording appears on their album of the same year, Factory Showroom and re-released on the compilation album Dial-A-Song: 20 Years Of They Might Be Giants.
In 2006, volunteers with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers began raising money to restore the tower and build a new museum. The restoration effort received a large boost when the state recently appropriated $1.8 million to the project. Renovations began in 2007 but the Edison Memorial Tower Corporation, which oversees the project, is still soliciting donations.