04.21.19: Lighting the lab

A vintage light bulb provides light in Thomas Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory
in Greenfield Village, part of The Henry Ford museum, Dearborn, Mich.


Technical information

May 5, 2017,
2:19 p.m.

42°18'19.12" N 83°13'36.27" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L (35mm)


1/640th second


I admit it was a bit surreal photographing the glow of a vintage light bulb while standing in the laboratory of Thomas Edison, the man who invented and commercialized the light bulb.

The lab and other related buildings all looked as if Edison and his staff had just left for a lunch break. Experiments and supplies were strewn on tables. Various materials were hanging on walls.

But what made it surreal was the location. Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory no longer stands in New Jersey where Edison created many of his inventions in the late 1800s. That laboratory building and all the related Menlo Park structures are in Dearborn, Mich., in the Greenfield Village section of The Henry Ford museum.

We really enjoyed the two days we spent at The Henry Ford in 2017, the first day at Greenfield Village and the second day at the indoor portion of the museum. But I have to admit I had mixed feelings about Greenfield Village.

It was educational — and fun — to see things like the Edison laboratory, the homes of Noah Webster and Robert Frost, the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop, the Farris Windmill and the many, many other historical structures as vintage Model Ts carried visitors around the grounds.

But one fact put a damper on the fun. None of these structures had any tie to their current location in Dearborn. As mentioned, the Thomas Edison lab was in Menlo Park, N.J. The Noah Webster home was in New Haven, Conn. Robert Frost’s home was in Ann Arbor, Mich. The Wright Brothers' bicycle shop was in Dayton, Ohio. The Farris Windmill, thought to be America’s first windmill, was used to power milling equipment in the mid 1600s in Cape Cod, Mass. All had been disassembled at their original site, transported to Dearborn and restored on the grounds of The Henry Ford.

Personally I would have preferred that these structures be restored and preserved at their original sites. The historical significance would have been much greater. But I don’t know the stories or reasons behind each structure’s relocation. Maybe there was an unwillingness or a lack of funding in the local communities to undertake the restoration/preservation. 

It’s impressive that The Henry Ford has gone to the time, effort and expense to transport and preserve these structures. It’s just odd to see Henry Ford’s garage down the street from the Wright Brothers’ shop, which is around the corner from Edison’s lab and down the road from Frost’s and Webster’s homes and a stone’s throw from the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law. That’s one impressive neighborhood.

The history is there. It’s just the geography that’s distorted.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.