What If

Thomas Edison Hadn’t Turned Failure into Success?

Thomas Edison Hadn’t Turned Failure into Success?

Pushed out of the electrical industry he helped create, Thomas Edison turned repeated challenges in the 1890s to his advantage and cemented his legacy as America's greatest inventor. Where others might see disaster and failure [Thomas Edison] was always optimistically looking for opportunities and seeing the possibility of new directions for improvements. Paul Israel, Director and General Editor, Thomas A. Edison Papers, Rutgers University

An Innovator Recognized

A small crowd gathered on a wooden platform in the middle of a dirt field to celebrate one of the world’s most prolific inventors. The weather was unseasonably cold and blustery for late September in Dearborn, Michigan, but the group, dressed in hats and coats, waited patiently through dusty gusts of wind. A Ford Model A slowed to the side of the platform, and out stepped Thomas Edison, spade in hand. 

Ignoring the handrails, Edison bounded up the platform's steps at a pace uncommon for an 81-year-old suffering from a cold. Smiling, he strode past the crowd and pressed the spade into a block of wet cement. Taking care to leave footprints in the drying block, Edison stepped down to join Henry Ford and with a typical Edison flourish, signed his name in the cement along with the date, September 27, 1928. 

Cornerstone of Edison Institute
Cornerstone of Edison Institute Signed by Thomas A. Edison, September 27, 1928

 

The spade had belonged to a friend, famed botanist and horticulturalist Luther Burbank, who brought the world hundreds of new plant varieties. Similarly, Edison introduced hundreds of his own technological inventions to the world. Together, Burbank's spade and the cement block signed by Edison represented the union of agriculture and industry, two pillars of American innovation. This unity formed the cornerstone of Henry Ford's new museum, an institution devoted to documenting America's story.

On that late September day, Ford dedicated the new museum to (and named it after) his hero and friend Thomas Edison, the person that he believed best represented America's innovative spirit. Ironically, Edison’s name became synonymous with success not only in spite of, but because of, his many failures.

Failure is Fundamental

In late 1879, Thomas Edison successfully tested an incandescent lamp that lasted long enough to be commercially profitable, but only after experimenting with thousands of materials to find an effective filament. Early on, platinum filaments had proved promising. Edison, knowing that he would need to secure large quantities of the metal if he was to sell his incandescent lamp at a reasonable price, immersed himself in literature on geology, mining, and mineral processing. 

Although platinum filaments didn’t end up working out, mining captured Edison’s curiosity and his interest expanded from platinum to gold ore. While developing society-transforming innovations like electric light and electrical distribution, Edison also organized the Edison Ore-Milling Company and filed a patent for an electromagnetic ore separator, an invention that extracted magnetic metal ore from pulverized rock.  

What If_Edison_Animation_V2
Magnetic Ore-Separator Patent No. 228,329 June 1, 1880

For much of the 1880s, Thomas Edison focused on commercializing electric light, installing electrical systems and power stations to support his electricity customers. However, in 1892, Edison's business partners merged his electric company with a rival's, leaving him with only stock. The new company dropped Edison’s name from the title, finalizing his exit from the electrical industry. Afterwards, Edison told a colleague: "I'm going to do something now so different and so much bigger than anything I've ever done before people will forget that my name ever was connected with anything electrical."

I'm going to do something now so different and so much bigger than anything I've ever done before people will forget that my name ever was connected with anything electrical.
Thomas Edison

A Rocky Road Ahead

Thomas Edison at an Iron Mine, Ogden, New Jersey, 1895

  Details

Thomas Edison at an Iron Mine, Ogden, New Jersey, 1895

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Creators

Kreidler, V.A. 

Object ID

P.188.1762

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison at an Iron Mine, Ogden, New Jersey, 1895

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By the time of the merger, Edison's focus was shifting. He had relied heavily on iron, and the steel that it produced, for his electrical enterprises. In the late nineteenth century, the eastern iron ore mines of the United States were becoming quickly depleted. High-grade ore from a few Midwestern mines remained too expensive to transport and mining low-grade ore proved economically unfeasible – leaving the eastern steel and iron industries faltering. 

In the iron ore shortage, Edison saw a way to economize the mining of low-grade ore with his electromagnetic ore separator. He launched a new company, filed for new ore separator patents, and scaled up experiments in ore processing plants. Eventually Edison acquired an old iron ore mine in northern New Jersey that still contained large quantities of low-grade ore. In 1890, he designed and built a plant near the mine in an attempt to turn that low-grade ore into a profitable product.

Thomas Edison at his Ore-Concentrating Works

 

Thomas Edison at his Ore-Concentrating Works, circa 1897

At the new plant, Edison implemented a cutting edge, automated process. An enormous steam shovel loaded mined boulders into carts, which carried them to a steel conveyor belt leading to the top of a tall building. Inside, the rocks dropped through multiple sets of massive rollers, which crushed them into a fine, sand-like powder. Carried by conveyor belt to another tower, the powder fell past hundreds of electromagnets that pulled granules of iron to one side while waste sand fell on the other. The concentrated iron ore powder could then be sold and shipped to eastern steel mills.

Iron Ore Briquette from Edison Mines, New Jersey, 1890-1899

  Details

Iron Ore Briquette from Edison Mines, New Jersey, 1890-1899

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Briquet (fuel)

Date Made

1890-1899

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Object ID

29.1116.2

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

Not on exhibit to the public.

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Iron Ore Briquette from Edison Mines, New Jersey, 1890-1899

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

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  Details

Edison soon ran into setbacks with his ore concentrating process. Massive rollers broke loose, abrasive dust covered everything, and several workmen died in machinery accidents. Some ore powder blew away during transport to the steel mills; still more blew away in steel mill furnaces. With his interest in the electrical industry behind him, Edison turned his full attention to problem-solving at the plant. One successful development, a glue-like substance that bound the iron powder in briquettes, allowed his iron ore to be transported and used effectively in steelmaking.

From 1894 to 1897, Edison spent nearly all his time tinkering at the plant, only coming home on Sundays. Despite modest demand for the ore he was producing, Edison frequently shut down the plant to redesign machinery and rebuild inefficient structures. As Edison sank more money into his now-failing project, investors left, workers lost faith, and foremen resigned. To keep his plant running, Edison sold the stock from his electric company merger and went into debt. The final blow came with the opening of the Mesabi iron range in the Midwest. High-grade iron ore became plentiful again, leaving Edison's iron ore powder unneeded.

By the end of the 1890s, Thomas Edison had spent nearly ten years and more than two million dollars attempting to build an industry around the mining of low-grade iron ore. Deeply in debt, Edison shuttered his operations, but in true Edison fashion, saw new opportunity rise from the dust of his failed mining venture.

whatIfEdison_inlineimage_THF267091
Thomas Edison at His Ore-Concentrating works, Ogdensburg, New Jersey, 1897

Cementing a Legacy

"Edison Cast Concrete House," 1908-1915

  Details

"Edison Cast Concrete House," 1908-1915

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Brochure

Date Made

1908-1915

Summary

In 1899, after a failed attempt at ore mining, Thomas Edison formed the Edison Portland Cement Company. At his plant, Edison combined his mining operation's rock-crushing technology with new machinery he developed, like a more efficient cement kiln. These innovations drove overproduction in the cement industry, leading Edison to propose a radical use for the excess product -- concrete houses for working class families.

Object ID

2017.0.11.1

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Related Objects

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

"Edison Cast Concrete House," 1908-1915

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

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  Details

Cement had been used for centuries, but in the early 1800s, a British stonemason named Joseph Aspdin devised a recipe of carefully proportioned ingredients to make a stronger and more durable version, which he called Portland. By the late nineteenth century, as people found new uses for the material, U.S. demand for Portland cement grew. Thomas Edison's initial exposure to the industry began with selling waste sand from his ore separator to cement manufacturers. When his mining operations failed, Edison saw an opportunity for his rock crushing technology to be used in the growing cement industry and founded the Edison Portland Cement Company.

By 1907, Edison had constructed another plant in northern New Jersey. His new company was on its way to becoming America’s largest cement producer, partially due to Edison's redesign of the rotatory kilns used in cement-making. Edison's kilns operated so efficiently, they set new industry standards and ultimately led to the overproduction of cement, making it unprofitable.  

Hoping to drive demand, Edison explored new uses for the building material. One grand experiment attempted to solve the shortage of affordable housing for working class families. Using giant iron molds, Edison created entire houses of cement at the rate of one per day. Ultimately, mass-producing houses with Edison's process proved too expensive for builders to adopt. However, the Edison Portland Cement Company eventually profited from the general expansion of cement use in infrastructure, and Edison was able to repay the debt incurred from his ore mining ventures.

On that windy day in late September, 1928, Henry Ford cast a block of Portland cement at the future site of the museum he dedicated to Thomas Edison. The cement cornerstone -- made with blast-furnace slag, a stony waste material separated out of metal during the ore refining process -- represented more than Edison’s technological contributions. The cornerstone embodied Edison's life-long relationship with failure and success, from electric lighting to ore mining to Portland cement. The very cement that shaped the block not only captured Edison's signature, but also his defining characteristic: the ability to turn failure into opportunity.   

Artifacts Related to This StoryRelated Artifacts

Browse Collections

Cornerstone of Edison Institute Signed by Thomas A. Edison, September 27, 1928

  Details

Cornerstone of Edison Institute Signed by Thomas A. Edison, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Cornerstone

Date Made

1928

Summary

The cornerstone commemorates the dedication of The Henry Ford. It suggests a union of nature (Luther Burbank's spade) and technology (Edison's signature and footprints). That unity is borne out by the block itself, made from Portland cement refined from blast furnace slag at the Ford's Rouge plant--a great example of Henry Ford approaching industry like a good farmer, denying the concept of waste.

Object ID

28.376.1

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Henry Ford Museum
 On Exhibit

at Henry Ford Museum in Museum Display

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Cornerstone of Edison Institute Signed by Thomas A. Edison, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Henry Ford and Others Watching Thomas Edison Sign the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

  Details

Henry Ford and Others Watching Thomas Edison Sign the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

September 27th, 1928, on the future site of Henry Ford's new museum, famed inventor Thomas Edison placed a spade once used by legendary horticulturist Luther Burbank into a block of freshly poured Portland cement. Ford looked on as his friend and personal hero wrote his name in the wet cement, officially dedicating Henry Ford Museum--where this "cornerstone" is now displayed.

Object ID

EI.1929.P.O.5885

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Related Objects

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Henry Ford and Others Watching Thomas Edison Sign the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Henry Ford and Others Watching Thomas Edison Sign the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

  Details

Henry Ford and Others Watching Thomas Edison Sign the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

27 September 1928

Summary

September 27th, 1928, on the future site of Henry Ford's new museum, famed inventor Thomas Edison placed a spade once used by legendary horticulturist Luther Burbank into a block of freshly poured Portland cement. Ford looked on as his friend and personal hero wrote his name in the wet cement, officially dedicating Henry Ford Museum--where this "cornerstone" is now displayed.

Object ID

EI.1929.P.188.5501

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Related Objects

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Henry Ford and Others Watching Thomas Edison Sign the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Henry Ford and Others Watching Thomas Edison Sign the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

  Details

Henry Ford and Others Watching Thomas Edison Sign the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

September 27th, 1928, on the future site of Henry Ford's new museum, famed inventor Thomas Edison placed a spade once used by legendary horticulturist Luther Burbank into a block of freshly poured Portland cement. Ford looked on as his friend and personal hero wrote his name in the wet cement, officially dedicating Henry Ford Museum--where this "cornerstone" is now displayed.

Object ID

EI.1929.P.188.5511

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Related Objects

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Henry Ford and Others Watching Thomas Edison Sign the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Henry Ford Watching Thomas Edison Sign Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

  Details

Henry Ford Watching Thomas Edison Sign Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

September 27th, 1928, on the future site of Henry Ford's new museum, famed inventor Thomas Edison placed a spade once used by legendary horticulturist Luther Burbank into a block of freshly poured Portland cement. Ford looked on as his friend and personal hero wrote his name in the wet cement, officially dedicating Henry Ford Museum--where this "cornerstone" is now displayed.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

EI.1929.P.188.5524

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Related Objects

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Henry Ford Watching Thomas Edison Sign Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison Placing Luther Burbank's Spade into the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

  Details

Thomas Edison Placing Luther Burbank's Spade into the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

September 27th, 1928, on the future site of Henry Ford's new museum, famed inventor Thomas Edison placed a spade once used by legendary horticulturist Luther Burbank into a block of freshly poured Portland cement. Afterwards, Ford watched his friend and personal hero write his name in the wet cement, officially dedicating Henry Ford Museum--where this "cornerstone" is now displayed.

Object ID

EI.1929.P.188.5521

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Related Objects

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison Placing Luther Burbank's Spade into the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison Placing Luther Burbank's Spade into the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

  Details

Thomas Edison Placing Luther Burbank's Spade into the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

September 27th, 1928, on the future site of Henry Ford's new museum, famed inventor Thomas Edison placed a spade once used by legendary horticulturist Luther Burbank into a block of freshly poured Portland cement. Afterwards, Ford watched his friend and personal hero write his name in the wet cement, officially dedicating Henry Ford Museum--where this "cornerstone" is now displayed.

Object ID

EI.1929.P.188.5517

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Related Objects

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison Placing Luther Burbank's Spade into the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison with the Newly Signed Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

  Details

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison with the Newly Signed Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

September 27th, 1928, on the future site of Henry Ford's new museum, famed inventor Thomas Edison placed a spade once used by legendary horticulturist Luther Burbank into a block of freshly poured Portland cement. Ford looked on as his friend and personal hero wrote his name in the wet cement, officially dedicating Henry Ford Museum--where this "cornerstone" is now displayed.

Object ID

EI.1929.P.188.5513

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Related Objects

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison with the Newly Signed Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison Signing the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

  Details

Thomas Edison Signing the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

September 27th, 1928, on the future site of Henry Ford's new museum, famed inventor Thomas Edison placed a spade once used by legendary horticulturist Luther Burbank into a block of freshly poured Portland cement. Ford looked on as his friend and personal hero wrote his name in the wet cement, officially dedicating Henry Ford Museum--where this "cornerstone" is now displayed.

Object ID

EI.1929.P.188.5498

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Related Objects

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison Signing the Edison Institute Cornerstone, September 27, 1928

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison and Another Man at Edison's Ore-Concentrating Works, Ogdensburg, New Jersey, circa 1895

  Details

Thomas Edison and Another Man at Edison's Ore-Concentrating Works, Ogdensburg, New Jersey, circa 1895

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

84.1.1630.P.188.14629

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison and Another Man at Edison's Ore-Concentrating Works, Ogdensburg, New Jersey, circa 1895

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Alfred Muller, William Kent, Thomas Edison and A. Ruce at Edison's Ore-Concentrating Works, October 1891

  Details

Alfred Muller, William Kent, Thomas Edison and A. Ruce at Edison's Ore-Concentrating Works, October 1891

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Object ID

84.1.1630.P.B.25261

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Alfred Muller, William Kent, Thomas Edison and A. Ruce at Edison's Ore-Concentrating Works, October 1891

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison at His Ore Concentrating Plant in Ogdensburg, New Jersey, circa 1896

  Details

Thomas Edison at His Ore Concentrating Plant in Ogdensburg, New Jersey, circa 1896

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

84.1.1630.P.188.9730

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison at His Ore Concentrating Plant in Ogdensburg, New Jersey, circa 1896

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison With Others at His Ore Concentrating Plant in Ogdensburg, New Jersey, circa 1896

  Details

Thomas Edison With Others at His Ore Concentrating Plant in Ogdensburg, New Jersey, circa 1896

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

84.1.1630.P.B.25259

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison With Others at His Ore Concentrating Plant in Ogdensburg, New Jersey, circa 1896

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison at His Ore-Concentrating Works, circa 1897

  Details

Thomas Edison at His Ore-Concentrating Works, circa 1897

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

84.1.1630.P.188.14628

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison at His Ore-Concentrating Works, circa 1897

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison at an Iron Mine, Ogden, New Jersey, 1895

  Details

Thomas Edison at an Iron Mine, Ogden, New Jersey, 1895

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Creators

Kreidler, V.A. 

Object ID

P.188.1762

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison at an Iron Mine, Ogden, New Jersey, 1895

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison in a Machine Shop at His Ore-Concentrating Works in Ogdensburg, New Jersey, 1897

  Details

Thomas Edison in a Machine Shop at His Ore-Concentrating Works in Ogdensburg, New Jersey, 1897

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Place of Creation

United States, New York 

Object ID

84.1.1630.P.188.1349

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison in a Machine Shop at His Ore-Concentrating Works in Ogdensburg, New Jersey, 1897

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison at His Ore-Concentrating Works, Ogdensburg, New Jersey, 1897

  Details

Thomas Edison at His Ore-Concentrating Works, Ogdensburg, New Jersey, 1897

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Place of Creation

United States, New York 

Object ID

84.1.1630.P.188.1346

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison at His Ore-Concentrating Works, Ogdensburg, New Jersey, 1897

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Iron Ore Briquette from Edison Mines, New Jersey, 1890-1899

  Details

Iron Ore Briquette from Edison Mines, New Jersey, 1890-1899

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Briquet (fuel)

Date Made

1890-1899

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Object ID

29.1116.2

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

Not on exhibit to the public.

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Iron Ore Briquette from Edison Mines, New Jersey, 1890-1899

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

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  Details

Iron Ore Briquette from Edison Mines, New Jersey, 1899-1900

  Details

Iron Ore Briquette from Edison Mines, New Jersey, 1899-1900

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Briquet (fuel)

Date Made

1899-1900

Summary

During the 1890s, Thomas Edison launched a New Jersey mining operation to address an iron ore shortage. He designed rock-crushing technology and an electromagnetic ore separator to extract low-grade ore from crushed boulders. The final product -- a briquette made of powdered iron ore -- didn't do well commercially, especially after high-grade ore was discovered around Lake Superior. In 1899, Edison left the industry.

Object ID

29.1116.1

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

Not on exhibit to the public.

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Iron Ore Briquette from Edison Mines, New Jersey, 1899-1900

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

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  Details

"Thomas A. Edison Portland Cement Manufacturer," circa 1920

  Details

"Thomas A. Edison Portland Cement Manufacturer," circa 1920

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Brochure

Date Made

circa 1920

Summary

In 1899, after a failed attempt at ore mining, Thomas Edison formed the Edison Portland Cement Company. At his plant, Edison combined his mining operation's rock-crushing technology with new machinery he developed, like a more efficient cement kiln. These innovations drove overproduction in the cement industry, leading Edison to propose a radical use for the excess product -- concrete houses for working class families.

Object ID

2017.0.9.1

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

"Thomas A. Edison Portland Cement Manufacturer," circa 1920

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

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  Details

"Edison Cast Concrete House," 1908-1915

  Details

"Edison Cast Concrete House," 1908-1915

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Brochure

Date Made

1908-1915

Summary

In 1899, after a failed attempt at ore mining, Thomas Edison formed the Edison Portland Cement Company. At his plant, Edison combined his mining operation's rock-crushing technology with new machinery he developed, like a more efficient cement kiln. These innovations drove overproduction in the cement industry, leading Edison to propose a radical use for the excess product -- concrete houses for working class families.

Object ID

2017.0.11.1

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Related Objects

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

"Edison Cast Concrete House," 1908-1915

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison and William Meadowcroft Inspecting a Poured Concrete House, New Jersey, circa 1910

  Details

Thomas Edison and William Meadowcroft Inspecting a Poured Concrete House, New Jersey, circa 1910

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

In 1899, after a failed attempt at ore mining, Thomas Edison formed the Edison Portland Cement Company. At his plant, Edison combined his mining operation's rock-crushing technology with new machinery he developed, like a more efficient cement kiln. These innovations drove overproduction in the cement industry, leading Edison to propose a radical use for the excess product -- concrete houses for working class families.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

84.1.1630.P.188.18600.C

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison and William Meadowcroft Inspecting a Poured Concrete House, New Jersey, circa 1910

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison with a Model of a Concrete House, circa 1911

  Details

Thomas Edison with a Model of a Concrete House, circa 1911

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

In 1899, after a failed attempt at ore mining, Thomas Edison formed the Edison Portland Cement Company. At his plant, Edison combined his mining operation's rock-crushing technology with new machinery he developed, like a more efficient cement kiln. These innovations drove overproduction in the cement industry, leading Edison to propose a radical use for the excess product -- concrete houses for working class families.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

84.1.1630.P.B.47519

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison with a Model of a Concrete House, circa 1911

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Thomas Edison Looking at a Concrete House Unit, circa 1911

  Details

Thomas Edison Looking at a Concrete House Unit, circa 1911

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

In 1899, after a failed attempt at ore mining, Thomas Edison formed the Edison Portland Cement Company. At his plant, Edison combined his mining operation's rock-crushing technology with new machinery he developed, like a more efficient cement kiln. These innovations drove overproduction in the cement industry, leading Edison to propose a radical use for the excess product -- concrete houses for working class families.

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

84.1.1630.P.B.47518

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison Looking at a Concrete House Unit, circa 1911

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

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  Details

Thomas Edison with an "Ediphone" Dictation Machine at His Desk in the West Orange Laboratory, 1911

  Details

Thomas Edison with an "Ediphone" Dictation Machine at His Desk in the West Orange Laboratory, 1911

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Creators

Unknown 

Object ID

84.1.1630.P.188.9748

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Thomas Edison with an "Ediphone" Dictation Machine at His Desk in the West Orange Laboratory, 1911

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

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  Details

Menlo Park Laboratory

  Details
Artifact

Laboratory

Date Made

1929

Summary

When Edison moved to Menlo Park, New Jersey in spring of 1876 the laboratory building contained his entire operation -- a handful of collaborators, office, library, and machine shop as well as laboratory. As the scale of Edison's investigations grew so did the complex, but this building -- dedicated to experimental activities -- was always understood to be the heart of the enterprise.

Object ID

29.3048.1

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Greenfield Village
 On Exhibit

at Greenfield Village in Edison at Work District

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Discussion Questions

  • What or who motivated Thomas Edison to innovate?
  • What traits of an innovator did Thomas Edison illustrate?
  • Which of these traits do you think was most important in helping him overcome obstacles?
  • What are some of the problems of today, and what innovator traits could you apply to solve them?
  • Do you think you can be an innovator like Thomas Edison? Why or why not?

Fuel Your Enthusiasm

The Henry Ford aims to provide unique educational experiences based on authentic artifacts, stories and lives from America’s tradition of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and innovation. Connect to more great educational resources:

Aspiring Innovators Resource Guide