The first object was added to the collections of The Henry Ford over a century ago, years before our official dedication. Artifacts sometimes get overlooked in this large and long-standing collection for periods of time, particularly if they are in storage and have no or minimal digital record of their existence (a problem that digitization of the collection is chipping away at). We were recently combing through our collections database for artifacts related to natural history for an upcoming project, and happened across several items described as “specimen boxes.” A little more investigation revealed they are shadowboxes containing seashells collected by Thomas Edison in Fort Myers, Florida, home to his Ft. Myers Laboratory. We’ve just digitized these shadowboxes, including this star-chambered one—see all three by visiting our Digital Collections.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
This year, many transformative things have been set into motion at The Henry Ford. One of the most rewarding projects has been all of the hard work that has culminated with the first season of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, an educational television show produced by Litton Entertainment. Perhaps you’ve been watching the episodes on CBS, Saturday mornings? If not, you can view them here.
When we entered into a partnership with Litton, we also took the opportunity to turn our gaze inwards, to research the history of our own involvement with broadcast media. A dive into the archives of the Edison Institute revealed some gems—photographic collections that captured the visual history of media events on our campus spanning 60 years. Previous blogs detail how in 1955, Marion Corwell began hosting Window to the Past, our first live television show. That same year, NBC filmed an all-day live event using the then-new medium of color broadcasting; episodes of The Howdy Doody Show were captured that day. Other discoveries revealed Gladys Knight and the Pips on the Phil Donahue Show in 1973.
Just a few years after cinema made its public debut in 1893, the marketing of home projectors began. Though by 1912 the market was flooded with them, the appeal had been limited. That was about to change. Soon two of the biggest companies in the movie business—one French, one American—went head-to-head, marketing their own home projectors as well as offering films for rent by mail, making them available through pioneering delivery systems. Yet only one of these companies would succeed.
Thomas Edison is considered the father of motion pictures. He invented the original movie camera, the kinetograph, which was used to film movies shot at his movie studio, the Black Maria, the foremost of its kind. His lab developed the earliest films in motion picture history, and those movies were exhibited on a peep hole-like device, the kinetoscope—yet another Edison creation. On November 30th, 1897, Edison’s Projecting Kinetoscope was used to show movies on a screen in a commercial setting for the first time. In December 1903, the Edison Manufacturing Company released The Great Train Robbery, which would go on to be the initial motion picture blockbuster. The film industry would prove to be successful, yet rocky, for Edison over the next few years, but in 1912, the year his company launched the Home Projecting Kinetoscope, optimism was in the air.
Charles Pathé, previously a phonograph importer, established the French company Pathé Frères in 1896. In 1902, the company introduced an improved movie camera, and soon it would become the leading model used in filming movies across Europe and America. The same year, they began shooting their own productions—completing them at a very fast clip—and distributing them, as well. They would soon dominate the European industry, so much so that Pathé Frères had few serious rivals. The Pathé K-O-K home projector was launched in 1912 in Europe, and the following year they introduced the device in the United States under a different name: the Pathescope. It was in this environment that home projectors finally became a product that the public could get behind.
The Pathescope and the Home Projecting Kinetoscope (also known as the “Home P.K.”) were similar products in many ways, yet had distinct differences. Both Edison and Pathé produced their own unique film size, which meant the films they rented out could be played only on their respective projectors. The companies also introduced a non-flammable film stock—a positive development in the minds of the general public—thus playing a major role in the appeal of the projectors to homeowners. The cost of the machines differed significantly, with Edison’s Home P.K. selling in the $75-$100 range (roughly $1,770-$2,360 in 2013 dollars), while the budget-priced Pathescope would set one back set one back $150 (about $3,540 today). Pathe's premium offering was priced at $250 (a whopping $5,900 in today’s dollars), making it far and away the priciest home projector available.
Kinetoscope Film "Professor and the New Hat," Thomas A. Edison Co., 1913, object ID 63.85.3.
The fact that the companies offered movies for rent was also of considerable appeal to consumers, as was the system of home delivery by mail. In order to accomplish this, both Edison and Pathé established “exchange” hubs to ship and receive their films. Owners of the Home P.K. initially had to purchase a film, which ran in the $2.50 to $20 range ($59-$472 if priced today), and then pay an exchange fee of $0.30-$1 ($7-24 in 2013) when swapping one movie for another. Pathé’s method differed, as Pathescope owners instead paid a yearly subscription of $50-$100 ($1,180-$2,360 today), fees based on how many movies were rented at a time. Edison offered 50 films at launch, a number that grew to 160 by 1914; Pathé had 700 films by that time—a momentous disparity.
Due to a number of factors, including that it was notoriously difficult to operate, the Home P.K. never caught on. Edison’s company manufactured 4,600 projectors, but in the end sold just 500 (more than 8,000 Pathescopes had been sold at that point). Pathé Frères had a huge advantage not only in the number of titles available, but because their projectors were superior. It seems quality and quantity was just too much for Edison, and the Home Projecting Kinetoscope was retired in 1914.
Fast forward to the home video era: 1972 marked the year films became available on videocassette to rent, but it would take the arrival of the DVD format in 1997 before an entity had great success with home delivery of movie rentals. That same year, a new company called Netflix was founded. Their concept of offering films for rent by mail seemed revolutionary, and for modern America it most certainly was an innovative (and appealing) model. It was also an idea whose time had come—again.
Bart Bealmear is a research support specialist in the Archives & Library at The Henry Ford.
The admiration Henry Ford held for his friend Thomas Edison has deeply shaped Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, as evidenced today through the cornerstone in the Museum and through more than a half-dozen buildings related to Edison’s life and work in Greenfield Village. We’ve just digitized a number of photos of Edison to bring the total number of our Edison-related collections objects online to nearly 250, with a few more coming soon. Visit our collections site to see this photo of Edison in his West Orange lab in 1920, as well other recently added photos of the inveterate tinkerer analyzing things such as dictating machines, telegraph keys, and even an electric streetcar.
Today's post comes to us from Don LaCombe, our Supervisor of Transportation and Crafts Programs at The Henry Ford. Don has been documenting the history of all-things train-related at The Henry Ford. Over the next few weeks we'll be sharing his articles here on the blog.
This 2-2-0 experimental, 40-inch electric locomotive, rail-car and track (pictured above) were constructed at Edison’s Menlo Park Complex in the spring of 1880. This pioneering effort in electric railways was an example of Edison’s entrepreneurial spirit and systemic outlook about the uses of electricity. This was the first functional American electric locomotive and represented an improvement in the state of the art.
The primary purpose of this experiment was to find uses for his company’s electrical generation capacity during daylight hours when electrical illumination was generally not required.
Edison’s venture was technically quite successful in that the train operated at 30 mph and was fully capable of carrying passengers. It was a well publicized success with significant mention in the June 5, 1880, Scientific American and other publications. The project also generated two new patents for Edison.
The technical success and notoriety of the train produced an investor in the project. Henry Villard, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, was interested enough to provide funds for Edison to continue his research. Villard saw the electric locomotive as a viable replacement for steam locomotives in areas where watering and maintenance were a problem.
Experimentation continued with the addition of two new locomotives that were mechanically similar but visually changed to look more like traditional locomotives. The track was extended from the original half mile to a total of three miles with three sidings and two turntables.
Northern Pacific’s participation ended when the railroad went into receivership and Villard lost control of the company.
In 1883 Edison merged with rival Stephen D. Field and they exhibited a locomotive and train at a railway exhibition in Chicago. During the exposition Edison had set up a short demonstration railway and the train carried more than 26,000 riders.
This joint venture eventually dissolved, and Edison lost interest in electric railroads and concentrated on other projects.
The train and cars were abandoned at the Menlo Park Complex when Edison moved out. They were later discovered under significant overgrowth and rescued by the “Edison Pioneers.” The date of the recovery is not known but the locomotive and “Pullman” car appear in the 1925 Pioneers’ Historical Collection of Early Electrical Apparatus. In 1929 the locomotive and car were gifted to The Edison Institute.
Ford had Edison’s electric locomotive, a “Pullman ” car and an additional passenger car restored. Sometime in 1930 a short railway was constructed in the Village. The route went from the Menlo Complex to behind the Logan County Courthouse.
It is likely that Francis Jehl, who had worked with Edison on the project before working here, was the only engineer. The picture, shown above, is of Jehl in the locomotive giving a ride to approximately 20 people. A note on the corner of the picture lists the date as Aug. 1, 1930. The relative age of the passengers pictured in the cars suggests these were probably Edison Institute students.
Geoffrey C. Upward's book A Home for Our Heritage (p. 87) mentions that the “train ran for a few years.” In all likelihood, the cessation of the railroad had to do with the train being powered by a 10 hp 110 volt, 75 amp electric motor. The power was supplied by two Edison Z-type dynamos and transmitted through the rails. The locomotives wheels were wood with steel tires. This insulated the engineer and passengers from the tracks while current for the motor was picked up by copper brushes contacting a pick-up ring attached to the steel tires.
In 1930, when the restored train first became functional, Greenfield Village was not open to the general public. In 1933 Greenfield Village was opened to the general public and the potential for an accidental “shock” probably caused them to reconsider use of the train.
In the early 1950s a red train shed was constructed across the street (Christie) from the Menlo Complex to provide a place for a static display of Edison’s original electric locomotive. A glass barrier was installed to allow guests to see the train without being able to touch it. The train was displayed setting on an original section of track. The red building is now located at the north east corner of the Armington and Sims yard and is used to house Greenfield Village electrical equipment.
Since Thomas Edison’s birthday happened to be this past Saturday (February 11), it made me think of this first known portrait of him.
Even after 35 years of working with the museum’s photograph collections, this 3 x 2-3/4 inch daguerreotype still gives me goose bumps when I look at it. Made at the dawn of photographic technology, it serves as a powerful reminder of the unique connection between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
Because of Henry Ford's friendship with Edison, many objects, photographs and manuscripts became part of the museum's collections, including Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory.
This daguerreotype was a gift to us from Edison’s widow, Mina, probably in the 1930s. The depth of Henry Ford’s admiration for Thomas Edison was so great that he named his museum and village "Edison Institute" in honor of the inventor. The dedication ceremony occurred on October 21, 1929, to coincide with Light's Golden Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of Edison's invention of the electric incandescent light bulb.
I find it fascinating to view this photographic image of the famous inventor when he was just a child. Daguerreotypes, invented in 1839, became very popular in theUnited Statesfrom the 1840s through the mid 1850s. The process took about 20 seconds, and Edison, shown at age 4, had to sit completely still! His seriousness and look of concentration go beyond the need for stillness. It seems to me that he is thinking about how and why the camera is working as much as obeying the adult admonition not to move.
Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Photographs and Prints, is continually fascinated with the museum’s over one million historical graphics.