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Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

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5 linear inches (1 Box)


With 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.


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 Documents, 1964
                  1 fldr.

This folder contains a letter from Harold Moldenke documenting the collection's provenance.

Series 2      Rubber Experiments, 1927
                    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
                    1 fldr.

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 lamp.

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 Archivist
The LuEsther T. Mertz Library
The New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, NY 10458-5126
(718) 817-8879

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