Featured Manuscript: Edison Asks about Mummy Eyeballs
March 26, 2014
One of the most frequent questions we receive here at the park concerns what Thomas Edison was like as a person. Despite being a seemingly larger-than-life figure, Edison was like most of us: complicated with many inconsistencies. The park's extensive manuscript collection, totaling some 5 million documents, help provide us a window into Edison's personality. Featured here is just one such document, a letter Edison wrote in 1888 thanking Mr. F.J. Kaldenberg for a Christmas present.
Edison begins by apologizing for not thanking Kaldenberg sooner, but then quickly launches into a personal request. Through a mutual friend, Edison learned that Kaldenberg possessed a pair of mummy eye balls. As you read the letter, Edison's genuine interest in seeing these oddities is visible and that it clearly captured his imagination. "Quite anxious" to see the exotic specimens, this titan of business and world-renowned innovator had every intention of detouring from his busy schedule to do so. Edison had a genuine curiosity for the world around him - almost childlike at times. In many interviews, for example, he liked to say that his stock room had "everything from the hide of an elephant to the eyeballs of a senator." [If you stop by the lab we can show you the elephant hide, but as far as we know he never acquired the Senator eyeballs.]
We don't know if Edison ever did see the mummy eyeballs, but we do know from this letter and oral histories that he always had a passion for his work and the world around him.
Check out the document on the Edison Papers Project website and see what other interesting documents you can find!
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Did You Know?
West Orange, NJ, was the birthplace of motion pictures. In 1893, Thomas Edison built the first building for the recording of motion pictures. It was dubbed THE BLACK MARIA. It got its name because it was large and black and looked like the police wagons of the day, which were called black marias.