Ch. 16 — Hello to you, Thomas Edison

“I think Claudia has a request now. Claudia, who is it you wanted to go back and check out?

“The ‘Wizard of Menlo Park,’” his wife replied.


“The ‘Wizard of Menlo Park’ was a title given to Thomas Edison, the American inventor.”

“Where is Menlo Park?” Russell asks.

“It’s not too far from Newark, New Jersey. It has the name Edison, NJ, now, but a section of it used to be called Menlo Park, a residential development in Raritan Township back in Edison’s early days.”

“You’ve obviously done your research on this topic,” Russell responded. “How would you suggest we go about getting Claudia there? You’ll remember how tricky it was getting ourselves at the right time when we were visiting with James Marshall back in 1848.”

“Well, you can check this out on the Internet, but there is a monument in NJ, today that we can use as a touchstone. You could use the GPS to go to the street address for the Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower. It is located on the spot where the scientist’s original lab sat in 1879.

“Then you could do a fast backup to the date of the dedication of the memorial which was February 11, 1938, and finally, reverse until large crowds appear for a showing of ‘the first practical incandescent light bulb’ at his laboratory.

Claudia adds, “Edison gave a public demo of his light bulb on December 31, 1879, and I thought that would be the best time to shoot for as it would be kind of obvious with huge crowds around the labs.

“It would be interesting to see what thoughts he had about time-travel and what his thinking is on the fantastic scientific advancement that has been made since his light bulb demo; especially now that we don’t even use his incandescent bulb anymore.”

“You’re right; and that info is excellent; you’ve saved us a lot of work on the web, Claudia. Thank you!”


“I’d like to get a camera crew along for the ride; this would be the story of a lifetime,” Ethan adds

“Isn’t this whole scenario the story of a lifetime?” Russell questions in response.

The System sets down at NNN and picks up a two-man crew to record the action with the American inventor.

There are handshakes and greetings all around.

“Now we need to let everyone know what we are planning to do this morning.

“This is perhaps one of the highlights of our use of the System, because we have a request to go and visit with perhaps the ultimate pioneer of American history. The ‘Wizard of Menlo Park.’ We all know him as this country’s most prolific inventor and gadgeteer, the recipient of 1,093 U.S. patents.”

Ladybuck: “Hey, guys, we read history books, too, you know.”

 “Claudia thinks it will be interesting to meet him; although it could prove to be more interesting to get his viewpoint on some of the scientific advances humans have made in the one hundred and thirty-five intervening years.” Russell replies.

“Perhaps you could let Alex and Claudia ‘drive’ us around today, Russell. Alex, do you think you’d be OK in the ‘driver’s’ seat?” ET asks the Philadelphia man.

Alex confers briefly with Claudia. She nods and he agrees. “I’ve never done this before, so keep an eye on me for the first little while,” he requests.

Russell hands the remote control to Claudia, who passes it without a word to her husband. He and Claudia take their places on the sofa.

“We did notice that you two have never questioned as to how our sofa got smashed on the end,” Dianne comments.

“That’s down to me,” ET confesses. “They saw your videos on my show, and I told them about it the first time I spoke to them about the System, so they already knew what had happened before either of them came here.” 

“You’re lucky your son wasn’t killed by that marine,” says Claudia. “How on earth do you stop something like that happening?”

Dianne replies, “You know, Claudia, we’re still playing it by ear at the moment. We try to keep away from dangerous situations, and now that we have a little experience under our belts because of our trips, we know many of the limitations of the System. That has given us a better idea of what we can and cannot do with it.

“We realize though that we have to be responsible in the way we use and direct the portal.”

Alex Allca asks, “Seeing your second HDTV set over there,” he points toward the number two unit, still faithfully showing the newspaper’s date/time display, “I recall from ET’s program on NNN that you were able to activate additional HDTVs simply by bringing them within a few feet of the original. Did I understand that correctly?”

“You did. Actually, our daughter Lyndsey first noticed that the second television was displaying the same picture as the first one. The kids had taken a trip over to visit the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and then saw that both sets were showing the same thing although they had been using only the first unit,” Dianne verifies.

“It took us very few experiments to check out the circumstances in which the phenomenon could be transferred from set to set. Too, we found that the television could be turned completely off and be turned back on and reactivated onto the System without any problems,” Russell adds.

“Edison, New Jersey? OK here we go.”

With a little guidance from Buckminster Richardson, whose wife is offering helpful direction from the GPS device, the Philadelphia man takes the System away from the view of the display at the Sunshine Herald and heads off toward the Newark, NJ, area almost exactly 1,000 miles away.

Even with Alex’s lack of experience at ‘driving,’ the trip lasts only about 90 seconds. The Edison memorial tower, marking the location of his laboratory, provides the major location the group was seeking.

The tower is on the exact site where Edison’s laboratory had stood and there are now two things to look out for during the time-travel portion of the operation.

First, there is the dedication of the memorial, which occurred on February 11, 1938; the second, back on December 31, 1879, is when the inventor gave the first public demonstration of his light bulb at the Menlo Park location.

Finding the first occasion will not be too hard. Alex can simply back up in time until the tower begins to disappear, then slowly moving forward until the edifice is completed, and then the dedication ceremony would be a simple matter of ‘cruising,’ until the crowds show up for the event.

The second might be a little more of a challenge, but difficulties can be resolved by simply backing up for a fixed number of seconds; which is a procedure the folks have used on a number of earlier occasions.

To back up from 1939 to 1879 at the rate of 31.8666 years per second, Alex simply has to hold the time-shift button down for 1.85 seconds. A fraction-of-a-second error can easily be corrected by simply ‘driving’ either backward or forward to the correct date. [If in doubt, the old newspaper trick usually works.]

“Let’s keep an eye on the old watch! It actually displays the year, and we know it can keep track of years before it was made, even back in the nineteenth century,” Russell gushes.

‘Mine host’ takes the wire tray James has fashioned from a coat hanger, verifies that its reading is the same as the house clock, places the watch into the tray and returns the device to the ancient scene through the HDTV. He adjusts the GPS on the rack so that his mother can keep her eye on it, although it will shortly be exposed to a satellite-free sky back when Queen Elizabeth II was still in her teens, and before the ‘great unpleasantness’ began in 1939.

Following a discussion of the principles involved in the trip in time, both Alex and Claudia indicate that they understand the situation clearly and Alex takes the System from its present-day scene of the memorial to Thomas Alva Edison, in reverse just over two seconds at warp speed.

Rapidly, the tower begins to diminish in size as the group arrives at the point in time when the tower was actually being constructed.

As quick as a flash he put the System into reverse but at a much slower rate of knots. It takes little more than a second until huge crowds could be seen milling around the site of the tower.

“Edison died in 1931, so there’s no need to stick around here. May as well head off to 1879 and the big demo,” Russell says.

The Pennsylvania-based billionaire leans in to get a close-up view of the watch in preparation for the next time shift, and then whirls the group back in time for what he figures is just shy of two seconds. The landscape, which is stationary, changes drastically; from pre-World War II urban sprawl to very rustic [interpretation: old, decrepit,] buildings, especially those now visible through the HDTV in the original Menlo Park, which is a part of Raritan Township, NJ. It appears there has been a sprinkling of snow in the recent past.

Fortunately, the site appears to be virtually deserted; barely a soul in sight. Alex pulls around into the shade of one building where he spots a couple of people in motion.

“I’ll hold here for a minute or two and hop out and check with those guys as to what the date is. I may have gone a shade too far back on that time shift,” Alex announces.

“ET, do you think you could go with Alex to figure out what’s up on the calendar?” Russell asks.

“Here we go again,” Ethan quips.

The two men exit from the portal in the relative darkness of the hut. They stroll around to the sunny side of the edifice to where the two figures were spotted moments earlier.

Finding a figure in a white shop coat, ET pops the question: “Pardon me, sir; I apologize for troubling you, but could you please tell me the date?”

“It’s December 27th; but, who are you men? What are you doing here?” he questions.

“I’m Ethan Thomas. I’m a news correspondent with the National News Network in New York. My companion is Mr. Allca. He is an investment counselor from Philadelphia, looking for good investments for one of his clients. We heard Mr. Edison is giving a public demonstration of his new and improved electric light bulb in late December and we wanted to be there to see it. Have we arrived too early?”

“I am afraid so; the date for the public demonstration is December 31, but if it might involve future investment in Mr. Edison’s light bulb, perhaps he would be willing give you a private demonstration of the new bulb. If you wouldn’t mind waiting, I’ll run over to his office and see if he is able to receive you right now.”

“That is very kind of you, Mr. …?” The inflection in Ethan’s voice leaves the man little alternative other than to give the NNN news anchor his name.

“Murphy – Wayne Murphy,” he volunteers. “Wait here. I’ll be back shortly.”

ET and Alex step back into the warm comfort of the Richardson household, preferring that to waiting in the cold of a New Jersey December day.

“Wouldn’t that be something, if we could get a private preview of the demonstration from Edison himself,” Pop exudes.

“Murphy’s coming back with another man,” Dianne warns.

Without further ado, Ethan, and Alex Allca disembark from the rec room and take their places at the shed where they first met Wayne Murphy.

As he approaches, Murphy waves his hand in acknowledgement of our two reps. With him is a man of above average height, and of above average weight, although quite distinguished in appearance.

“That’s Thomas Edison,” Claudia says excitedly, “I’ve seen several photographs and video of him.” Outside, back in 1879, the two time-travelers are able to hear her comment, and so prepare themselves to meet the ‘Wizard of Menlo Park.’

“Mr. Edison. Thank you so much for coming out into the cold to see us. I explained to Mr. Murphy that I am a news correspondent for National News Network in New York City; my name is Ethan Thomas. My friend is Alexander Allca, who is a financial counselor from Philadelphia. Mr. Allca is looking for investment opportunities for his clients.”

“Well, we’re always glad to hear from investors. Can I help you with anything in particular?” the Milan, Ohio, native answers.

Alex’ response is for the two men: “We had hoped to be able to see the public demonstration of your incandescent light bulb, but appear to have arrived a little too early … ”

He leaves the rest of his sentence unfinished, in the hope that the youthful inventor will get the hint.

He bites … “We sure can let you have a preview of our demo, if it will help you to sway the minds of potential investors. There isn’t a bone in our collective body that would turn away a good investment inquiry.”

“Awesome,” says our ‘investment counselor’ in the hope that the inventor will be able to do it on the spur of the moment.

“If you would care to accompany me to our main lab, I can show you the bulb in action right now,” and he turns and walks off in the direction from which he had arrived. Our heroes walk beside him.

Ethan asks concerning the health of the inventor’s 24-year-old wife, Mary, and family, Dot, Dash, and William, who is at present one year old. Edison responds appreciatively, advising that all are well.

[On December 25, 1871, at the age of 24, Edison married 16-year-old Mary Stilwell, whom he had met two months earlier. They had three children:

Marion Estelle Edison (1873–1965), nicknamed “Dot”;

Thomas Alva Edison Jr. (1876–1935), nicknamed “Dash”;

William Leslie Edison (1878–1937).]

“Today,” Edison adds, “I have spent the last several hours making sure that the power supply to my light bulb is working perfectly. I can’t afford to have a failure in front of thousands of potential customers for my service.”

Arriving at the laboratory, the three men enter a lamp-lit work area and find a number of men steadily working away at three long benches. Most keep busy writing with pencil and paper, slowly taking measurements, translating them into drawings, making calculations and industriously recording the results in their notebooks.

Stopping at his own workstation, the inventor points with pride to his invention, termed ‘the first practical incandescent light bulb.’ “This is it, gentlemen,” he announces.

Compared to modern products, the Edison is enormous, near one foot high with a pig’s-tail shaped vacuum seal at the top and a convoluted hodge-podge of wires at the base.

The inventor applies electrical power to the invention and it quickly lights up the laboratory. Ugly, but it works.

He proudly says, “My bulb works because the filament I have developed translates power into heat, which allows it to heat up to a white-hot temperature, which provides the light, but it doesn’t burn away because I have completely evacuated all the air from the bulb. This permits my light bulb to last many scores of times longer than any other bulb ever developed.”

“Do you mean that yours is not the first invention of a light bulb?” Alex queries.

“It’s not! You’re right! Mine is definitely not the first. There’s a whole parcel of incandescent bulbs out there. The people who developed them, though, haven’t been able to get all of the air out of the globe, so their filaments burn out in next to no time, whereas mine lasts hundreds of hours; I’m hoping to extend that to as many as a thousand,” Thomas asserts.

[History tells us that Edison’s success with the light bulb was due, in great part, to the provision of a completely integrated electrical distribution setup, which provided consumers with a way to light their homes using electric bulbs without a need for endless numbers of huge batteries.]

The System has followed them across Menlo Park; has ‘intruded’ on Edison’s laboratory and the group inside the house is sharing in the demo of the ancient artifact in the inventor’s workplace.

“Mr. Edison,” Ethan begins, “I have something I would like to tell you and then, if you are agreeable, Mr. Allca and I have something to show you.

“We are very familiar with your improvement to the inventions of the light bulb. In fact the design you have created will actually continue in general use in most of the households of the world until the early part of the twenty-first century, when it will be phased out of use in favor of a very small version of the fluorescent tube.”

“How do you know this? Nobody knows the future!” he asserts

“In this case,” ET assures him, “we do know what’s going to happen. As an inventor and a thinker, I hope you’ll perhaps be able to grasp the idea that Mr. Allca and I have come to visit with you from the future.”

“What are you talking about, man? Do you mean you’re not here to invest in my invention?” his tone and demeanor escalate rapidly.

“Mr. Edison, I want to assure you that literally billions of people will be addicted to your bulbs for well over a hundred years. You’ll be worth millions upon millions of dollars.”

‘We are who we told you. Our journey started in the year 2015, in St. Petersburg, Florida. That’s one hundred and thirty-six years from now.”

“OK. If you’re so familiar with my work and my coming millions, tell me, how long will I live?”

“I can name most of the presidents between now and the turn of the century, but I’m not sure you would want to know the answer to the question you have raised.” The Philadelphian hesitated to tell the man when he would ‘buy the farm.’

Ethan had thought of inviting Edison into the Richardson house, so that he could browse around through what the inventor would consider technical innovations that are spread around the home.

He reconsidered in light of the experience all had shared with Alexander the Great. Big Al had come into the present day from a very ancient world. That might prove very different in the case of a man from just over a hundred years earlier and who was a highly skilled inventor to boot.

“What proof can you show me to verify that what you say is true?”

ET put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a few coins, which he holds out to the inventor, including a Lincoln penny.

The one-cent coin’s obverse side bears the Lincoln profile, the date 1981, the motto of the United States ‘In God We Trust,’ and the single word ‘Liberty.’

On the reverse is engraved a representation of the Lincoln Memorial, a U.S. National Monument, standing in Washington, DC, since it was dedicated in 1922.

The Lincoln profile catches his attention immediately and he picks the coin up and inspects it closely. Edison sighs as he recalls the life and times of Lincoln, the sixteenth president, and his tragic assassination, there in Washington, mere days after the Confederate surrender at the small Virginia village of Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865, ending the War Between the States.

Ethan explains the significance of the Lincoln Memorial to the scientist, who can only nod and recall to his mind the privations that were a part of life during and after the Civil War.

Fourteen years after war’s end, the inventor, like many of his fellow citizens, still struggles with the incredible death toll of 602,000 Americans, as well, the immense burdens of Reconstruction.

Edison picks a 2002 quarter out of ET’s hand, notes the date, but, as with the penny, does not comment on it, since it harmonizes with the future date he has been given earlier. He is interested to see George Washington, America’s first president engraved on the obverse. He notes, too, the musical instruments engraved on the coin, which is a Tennessee commemorative, but as they appear relatively normal, he makes no remark on them.

While Edison is distracted with the coins, from inside the house, Russell clears his throat to get Ethan’s attention and hands the NNN anchor a twenty-first-century incandescent light bulb to show to the inventor.

Accepting the globe, ET passes it to the Ohio man, saying, “This is what your light bulb will look like around the turn of the twenty-first century. It will have been manufactured by the billions in just about every country in the world.

“You can keep that one, if you wish,” Ethan tells him.

“Do people call you Thomas, or Tom?” Alex inquires.

“Only my wife calls me Thomas, especially when she’s annoyed at something I’ve done wrong. Years ago, they used to call me ‘Al,’ but Tom is just fine,” he responds, continuing to scrutinize the glass globe in his hand.

“Is this the light bulb you were telling me about; the one that replaces my invention?” he gestures toward his guests with the bulb in his right hand.

Strangely, the inventor does not question where the bulb came from. He remains unaware of the presence of the System and the folks on the other side of the portal.

“No,” Ethan responds, “this is what your light bulb will evolve into by the twentieth century. As I told you, the principle of your light bulb remained strong until very late in the twentieth century. About that time, consumers began to become more conscious of the environment, and demanded light bulbs that were more efficient; giving brighter light while using less electrical energy.”

Edison notes however, that, on ET’s wrist the correspondent is wearing a heavy bracelet-like object. It puzzles him, so he asks to see it. Ethan releases the strap of his digital watch from his arm and hands it to Edison.

The inventor’s brow furrows. Back in the 1870s, wrist watches are another subject for daydreams. The common watch of his day was a pocket watch of perhaps 50 mm (2 inches) diameter. [It was not until the Boer War (in which America took no part), 1899-1902, that wristwatches proved to be extremely useful for coordinating activities. Despite this resounding endorsement, it took another two decades before the wrist chronometer began to be acceptable to the public.]

Tom notes that the date display agrees with the information our heroes had provided him with earlier. He is fascinated by the digital display as it checks off the seconds.

Puzzled, he holds it to his ear to see if there is any indication as to how the device works, but hears nothing. “Is this accurate; the date and time?” he asks. “How does it work?”

“It’s powered by a small battery,” ET tells him.

The man’s brow furrows as he tries to relate what he knows about pocket watches, clocks, batteries; and how the two things could possibly be rigged to work in unison. He shakes his head in confusion, and hands it back without further remark.

Ethan Thomas powers up his digital camera, sets it to replay, and shows the young Edison the archived pictures he had taken of George Washington during the crossing of the Delaware River back in 1776.

“This is George Washington,” Edison blurts. “I never met the president; he died long before I was born, but I’ve certainly seen pictures of him. I recognize him from the paintings. How did you get these photographs of him? He’s been dead since around 1800; that’s long before Daguerre’s time or cameras were invented.”

“This,” he exaggerates, “is an upgrade on the photography process of Daguerre or the Collodion Wet Plate procedure, of the 1850s.”

The Ohioan is astounded; not only are the photographs crisp and clear, but in living color. Color photography is only a dream for the vast majority of would-be inventors back in the nineteenth century. [Remember, the nineteenth century is the one where every year but one (1900, which is still a part of the nineteenth) begins with the numbers one and eight, as in 1849. Read up on the difference between cardinal numbers and ordinal numbers.]

Ethan holds back from showing the inventor the video he had made of General Washington.

“We took a trip back to the 1770s to see the General crossing the Delaware River.”

“Oh, no! I would love to have been there. Would it be possible for you to take me on one of your time-travel trips?”

Ouch! This is definitely a job for our super person. Fortunately, our Ethan is able to read signs better than Geronimo’s best scout ever could.

Ethan hesitates to invite the entrepreneur into the house with one excellent reason in mind: How do you show Thomas Alva Edison technological advances such as we enjoy in the twenty-first century, without getting him off-track on the inventions for which he’s already world-renowned?

[Remember that our family still holding strictly to the principle that there is to be no change made to anything that will cause history to have to be re-written. Imagine what would happen if Tom was to work overtime to make a digital camera, to the neglect of the later invention for which he really became famous, the gramophone (or, phonograph, record player).]

“I’m not sure that would be safe, Tom. The thing is that we’re still on an experimental basis; we don’t know for sure that we’d be able to bring you back to Menlo Park. Then you might be stuck in the future and unable to return to your own place in time. Tell me something; would you settle for us coming back to see you again in the days ahead, and bring you some other things that would perhaps give you some ideas?” [Oh, wow! This guy could sweet-talk the hind leg off a donkey!]

“That would be swell,” Tom responds, using twentieth-century Clint Eastwood talk. ET breathes a sigh of relief and smiles half-heartedly at the Menlo Park man in the white coat.

“Thanks for the light bulb,” he smiles.

“Nice meeting you, Tom. Thanks for the demonstration of your invention. You can look out for us in a few months; we’ll be back to see you. Perhaps we’ll be able to have the opportunity to meet your wife and family.”

The duo shakes hands with the famous inventor, and then exits his laboratory by the same door they had entered, chased by the portal, which is still doggedly following their footsteps.

Once outside the Menlo Park lab, they re-enter the Richardson home through the System to a chorus of “Awesome,” and “Well done,” “Amazing, guys.” The welcome was just what the two men needed. That had been quite a draining experience and they were glad to have it over.

“Thank you so much, Ethan. You were magnificent. How do you come up with those answers, just at the right moment?” This is only Claudia’s second experience of the real-time fast-talking television anchor. The impression it has left will last a very long time.

“Sometimes I wonder exactly the same thing,” the correspondent replies.


The grateful Allcas take their leave of the family after being delivered back at their mansion in Philadelphia. They have had several experiences that will be difficult to forget for many years.



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