"Edison Day, October 21st"
|Blotter number 179-2; image number: LAR_B1792.
Text on blotter reads:
"Edison Mazda. More Light for Less Money."
"Edison Day, October 21st.
35th Anniversary of His Invention of the Incandescent
The mythology surrounding Thomas Edison's lamp invention
focuses on 21 October 1879 as the day of the invention. However, work by
historians Robert Friedel and Paul Israel sheds new light on events at
Menlo Park. Laboratory notebooks record an on-going series of experiments
during this time and, "October 21, ..., came to an end without the dramatic
success that subsequent accounts of the electric light's invention attributed
The following day Edison coworker Charles Batchelor
recorded, "We made some very interesting experiments on straight
carbons made from cotton thread." One of these experiments tested
a lamp containing a simple length of carbonized sewing thread (lamp
number 9 in a group of 11) that burned for fourteen and one-half,
not forty, hours. This experiment told Edison and his team that
they were close to the answer, and served to focus their research.
In early December they began to feel confident that they had achieved
Public relations needed something more dramatic though,
and using October 21 to celebrate Edison anniversaries quickly became commonplace.
The 35th anniversary noted on the above blotter occurred in 1914 and was
used both as a promotional opportunity and an opportunity to honor Edison
himself. Special commemorative lamps were sold, "Edison Day" parades were
held and retrospective articles appeared in newspapers and magazines.
Perhaps the largest such series of celebrations
occurred in 1929 for the 50th anniversary, known as "Light's Golden
Jubilee." Many realized it might be Edison's last major anniversary
(indeed, he died two years later) so a
national celebration was organized.
Events included the lighting of specially-made 50,000 watt light
bulbs and the opening of the reconstructed Menlo Park lab on the
grounds of Henry Ford's Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.
For additional information about the
experiments at Menlo Park see:
Robert Friedel and Paul Israel with Bernard
S. Finn, Edison's Electric Light:
Biography of an Invention,
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1986). "Dramatic success" quote
is on page 100; Batchelor's "straight carbons" quote in on page 101. Robert
Friedel worked on the the first iteration of the physical "Lighting A Revolution"
exhibition in 1978-79.
Photos from the Golden Jubilee celebration
can be seen on the Smithsonian on-line exhibition Edison
After Forty in the section, "Edison in His Eighties."