The museum was built on Christie Street in 1947, and is typically visited by about 10,000 people each year. Its reopening was two years in the making, due in part to complications during the construction process.
“This should have taken a month,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Charles Tomaro, a former Edison councilman and one of the officials instrumental in moving the renovations along. What got in the way, first and foremost, he said, was the government, and then came the asbestos and remediation, a broken water heater, the alarm contract and other issues. His comments brought laughs from the crowd.
The museum will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It features professionally tuned-up phonographs and new interpretive exhibits telling the Menlo Park story in a comprehensive way.
The nonprofit Edison Memorial Tower Corp. and township officials have been working for years to restore the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park, which is part of the 36- acre Edison State Park. The township and EMTC jointly administer the park with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Parks & Forestry. Thomas Alva Edison, commonly known as the world’s greatest inventor, lived and worked at Menlo Park from 1876 to 1882, when he established the world’s first organized research and development laboratory, invented the phonograph, improved the telephone, invented the first practical incandescent lamp, formed the Edison Portland Cement Company and developed a complete system for generating and distributing electricity.
“People seem to forget about that, Edison not only developed concepts of inventions, he thought of the use of electricity for mass production,” state Assemblyman Peter Barnes III said.
During the reopening celebration, which featured music by the J.P. Stevens High School Choir, people were able to take guided tours of the museum and participate in fun educational activities.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said the renovation process was a great opportunity to preserve history and to remember that New Jersey is a state of innovation.
“And Thomas Edison was obviously the forefather of that,” he said. “His complex here was the Microsoft [of that time]. It reminds us that as an innovation state, we need to continue to be at the apex of the curve of intellect.”
Barnes III noted that Thomas Edison was named “Man of the Millennium” by Time Magazine a few years ago.
“He was one of the greatest persons who have ever lived,” he said. “People from New York City would travel and stand here where we are now and watch Edison work.”
Freeholder Director Christopher Rafano said the county has donated upwards of $600,000 to the site.
Tomaro told the crowd that Edison cement was used to build the original New York Yankee stadium, and four houses in the area are made of that cement.
“I could not be more thrilled than I am right now, standing in front of what is truly the most historic site in the nation … let me rephrase that, the world,” he said. “This is a tribute to one of the greatest inventors — ‘The Wizard of Menlo Park.’”
Mayor Antonia Ricigliano noted that Christie Street was the very first road to have streetlights, thanks to Thomas Edison. She said his hard work, dedication and foresight continue to benefit society.
Township Council President Robert Karabinchak, who is a trustee along with Tomaro of the EMTC, said that once the renovations are completed, the site will again be a tourist destination for people all around the world.
“[Edison’s] history is absolutely astronomical,” he said. “His [inventions are] taught around the world.”
The restoration of the Edison Memorial Tower is moving along. The tower has been closed to the public for several years because of crumbling concrete that made the structure hazardous. InApril 2011, a $2.4 million contract was awarded to Astral Construction Services of Bergenfield to repair the art deco monument, which dates to 1937.
Preservation New Jersey named the tower one of the state’s top endangered sites.
For more information about the Thomas Edison Center visit www.menloparkmuseum.org.