Photo: Staff at Menlo Park.

Edison was the first inventor to see invention as far more than simply embodying an idea in a working artifact. His vision encompassed what the twentieth century would call innovation—invention, research, development, and commercialization. In the process, he helped to create a new institution for invention—the industrial research laboratory, which might be considered Edison's greatest invention. Edison's first laboratories were machine shops at his telegraph works in Newark, New Jersey. Working in these shops between 1870 and 1875, he improved stock ticker technology, developed a system of automatic telegraphy, invented the quadruplex for sending four messages over a single wire, and created his electric pen for making stencil copies of documents.

In 1876, Edison opened his most famous laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Over the next five years, he developed a telephone transmitter, the phonograph, and the first system of incandescent electric light and power. After moving into New York to oversee the commercialization of his electric light system, Edison used the laboratories at his manufacturing shops to improve lighting technology. In 1887, he opened a new and larger laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. During the thirty-five years he worked at this laboratory, he invented the first successful motion picture camera, developed better phonograph and record technology, created a system for refining low-grade iron ore, invented an alkaline storage battery, and improved cement manufacturing technology.