Thomas Edison National Historical Park | CHEMISTRY LABORATORY

Inside the Chemistry Laboratory at Thomas Edison National Historical Park

Inside the Chemistry Laboratory at Thomas Edison National Historical Park

Thomas Edison’s chemical laboratory is housed in the first of three identical buildings, all of which were constructed in 1887-88. At the time, it was one of the most advanced chemistry labs in the world. Edison’s disk shaped records and a nickel-iron-alkaline battery were some of the products that came out of the lab. (The battery actually made Edison more money than the light bulb or the phonograph.)

Chemistry Laboratory building at Thomas Edison National Historical Park

Chemistry Laboratory building at Thomas Edison National Historical Park

The Chemistry Laboratory building is closed except during Ranger-guided tours. When I visited, two tours were given each day, but all depends on the number of Rangers on duty. The only way to get the schedule is to either call or stop by the Laboratory Complex Visitor Center. The schedule is not posted on the National Park Service’s website for Thomas Edison National Historical Park.

Park Ranger conducts a tour of Thomas Edison National Historical Park's Chemistry Laboratory

Park Ranger conducts a tour of Thomas Edison National Historical Park’s Chemistry Laboratory

There is a lot of neat looking stuff at the lab, but most of it is not identified. You can wander around while the Ranger gives a fifteen-minute talk about the lab and why chemistry was so important to the work of Thomas Edison. A few of the contraptions are discussed, but most simply remain curios of a past era.

Equipment in the Chemistry Laboratory at Thomas Edison National Historical Park

Equipment in the Chemistry Laboratory at Thomas Edison National Historical Park

The lab is set up as it would have been in 1930 when Edison was searching for a way to make rubber from domestic plants, the project he was working on when he died the following year. With America depending entirely on foreign markets for rubber, industrialists like Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone came to Edison for help. He collected plants from around the country and tested them for latex. He did this by first crushing the plants in a ball mill: a cylinder into which the plant materials are placed along with a hard ball. As the cylinder turns, the materials are crushed by the ball into a powder that can be tested for latex.

Ball Mill inside the Chemistry Laboratory at Thomas Edison National Historical Park

Ball Mill inside the Chemistry Laboratory at Thomas Edison National Historical Park

Edison tested roughly 17,000 different plants and discovered that goldenrod was the best source of latex. However, no goldenrod rubber was ever mass produced. Instead, it was simply filed away as a “good to know” idea just in case the supply of rubber was ever cut off.

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Last updated on December 11, 2022
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