Archives and Manuscript Collections
THOMAS ALVA EDISON PAPERS (1880-1964)
5 linear inches (1 Box)
1,093 United States patents to his credit, Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)
is the most prolific American inventor to date. Although he is most commonly
associated with the telecommunications industry and the invention of the
incandescent lamp, Edison was engaged for two years (1927-1929) in the
search for a domestic source of natural rubber. This took place at his
winter home "Seminole Lodge" in Fort Myers, Florida and at The New York
Botanical Garden with the collaboration of John Kunkel Small.
In 1927, Edison, Henry Ford, and Henry Firestone formed the Edison Botanic
Research Corporation of Fort Myers.
Plants were collected in Florida and throughout the southern United
States by field collectors. Plants were grown under controlled conditions
in Florida and at Edison's laboratories in West Orange, New Jersey. The
Edison employee most associated with this research was B. Jonas. Eventually,
over 17,000 plants were tested for the quality and quantity of rubber they
produced. It was determined that the goldenrod was the most likely candidate
and after two years of cross-breeding a goldenrod was developed that yielded
almost twelve percent rubber.
Edison was elected to the Board of Managers of the Garden in 1930 and
served until his death in 1931. Rubber experiments continued for several
years after Edison's death and that of John Small in 1938. In July 1936,
however, the company was dissolved. Henry Ford moved the goldenrod project
to his Savannah, Georgia plantation. During World War II, the United States
Department of Agriculture continued the experiments but with the development
of synthetic rubber, the project was discontinued.
The Records of the Edison Botanic Research Corporation were moved to
the Edison National Historic Site at West Orange, New Jersey and microfilmed.
In 1963 Mrs. Lilllian Roth of Irvington, New Jersey was a volunteer at
the site. She transcribed many of the notebooks related to Edison's rubber
studies and one related to trial filaments for the incandescent lamp and
presented carbon copies to Harold Moldenke, who subsequently sent them
to The New York Botanical Garden where they remain today.
SCOPE AND CONTENT
The collection documents Thomas Edison's botanic research towards finding
a domestic source of natural rubber, and experiments 974-1334 towards the
invention of the electric lightbulb. In addition, it contains transcriptions
of the microfilmed notebooks. The collection is organized into three series.
Series 1: Transmittal Document
Series 2: Rubber Experiments
Series 3: Incandescent Lamp Tests
Series 1 Transmittal
This folder contains a letter from Harold Moldenke documenting the collection's
Series 2 Rubber
5 lin. in. Arranged by subject.
These folders contain the results obtained from the examination of over
10,000 kinds of plants, including solidago. They are listed by experiment
number. Also included are summaries and translations of journal
articles on the subject.
Series 3 Incandescent
Lamp Tests, 1880
This is the transcription of the log of Edison's experiments using plant
materials such as bamboo to create a long-lasting filament for his incandescent
Processed May 1999 by Laura Zelasnic under a grant from
the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) PA-23141-98 and a grant
from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Foundation.
For more information and a complete description contact:
Susan Fraser, NYBG
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
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