Invention Factory

Building the Lab

Edison's newly built laboratory at Menlo Park cost of $2,500  (about $50,000 in today's money). The white, two-story laboratory building was completed on 25 March 1876, and Edison moved in a few days later.  The ground floor housed a machine shop with precision tools and a scientific and chemical laboratory were built on the second-floor. It was a "state-of-the-art" industrial laboratory for 1876, unparalleled in the United States.  In a letter to Western Union President William Orton, Edison described his laboratory as "25 x 100 & 2 stories filled with every kind of apparatus for scientific research. . . . with machinery & apparatus [that] have cost about $40,000."  In this new laboratory, Edison promised to produce "a minor invention every ten days and a big thing every six months or so." This new model of invention influenced subsequent research and development laboratories in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Edison opened his laboratory in April 1876 and his staff consisted of experimenters Charles Batchelor and James Adams and three machinists, "two of whom have been in my employ for five years and have much experience." G. M. Shaw’s "Sketch of Thomas Alva Edison", appeared in Scientific Monthly And described it as follows:
On the ground floor, as you enter, is a little front-office, from which a small library is partitioned off.  Next is a large square room with glass cases filled with models of his inventions.  In the rear of this is the machine shop, completely equipped, and run with a ten-horse-power engine.  The upper story occupies the length and breadth of the building, 100 x 25 feet, is lighted by windows on every side, and is occupied as a laboratory.  The walls are covered with shelves full of bottles containing all sorts of chemicals.  Scattered through the rooms are tables covered with electrical instruments . . . microscopes, spectroscopes, etc.  In the centre of the room is a rack full of galvanic batteries.

Menlo Park Lab Menlo Park shop Menlo Park upstairs
Menlo Park Laboratory, c.1878 Menlo Park shop, 1st floor c.1878 Menlo Park upstairs lab, c. 1878