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By Daniel Lewis

Thomas A. Edison stands as one of the great inventors of all time. He is perhaps most well-known for his work with the light bulb and electric light and power systems. But during the course of his fascinating career, Edison worked on an astonishing variety of inventions and projects.

These include batteries, sound recording, motion pictures, telegraphs and telephones, mining, concrete buildings and furniture, and a safety lamp for miners. Edison won the prestigious Rathenau Medal for the miners’ safety lamp, but his foray into concrete furniture was less successful—the idea never took hold. Edison attempted to apply his work on alkaline storage batteries to automobiles and delivery trucks. While Edison was ultimately frustrated in this effort, his work was pioneering, presaging the development of electric cars and hybrid cars in the 21st century. Edison was able to invent productively in so many industries because he also pioneered team research and development at his laboratories in Menlo Park and West Orange, New Jersey.

The Thomas A. Edison Papers, now included in ProQuest History Vault, shed light on all of these aspects of Edison’s inventive career and are an amazing source for researchers interested in the rise of the United States as an industrial power and as a center of innovation and entrepreneurship, the growing dominance of innovation and business within American culture, and the role of technology in modern societies. 

Thanks to Edison’s extensive record-keeping, the Thomas A. Edison Papers also offer excellent research opportunities for students not only in the history of science and technology, but in social history, business and economic history, and labor history. Cultural historians will find the Edison Papers a rich source for examining more generally the place of invention and new technologies in the larger culture, especially in regard to electric lighting, sound recording, and motion pictures.  Scholars interested in the management of technology will also find much of interest in this collection. The Edison Papers also provide documentation about prominent figures such as Jay Gould, J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford and others, as well as offering insight into how unknown Americans saw Edison as their hero and role model.

The ways in which the Edison Papers can appeal to a wide range of scholars for both research and teaching is exemplified by a one-page entry from November 1902, in which Edison proposed a coal or a gas-fired furnace intended as a combination "stove and light for poor people in Cities" [see photo]. Social historians, economic historians, and technology historians could all make use of this document in a variety of ways, for example, examining the American propensity for solving social problems with technology or investigating the social and economic conditions of the urban poor and working classes and their access to technologies of light and heat. This document is just one example of the fascinating documentation that can be found in the Thomas A. Edison Papers.

For more information, please see the Thomas A. Edison Papers brochure.
Librarians: learn more and sign up for free trials of ProQuest History Vault modules. Plus, learn about complementary resources, including Trench Journals and Unit Magazines of the First World War; ProQuest U.S. Serial Set Digital Collection, Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive, and ProQuest Technology Collection.

22 Sep 2014

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