Monday, June 20, 2022

Last known film footage of Thomas Edison depicts 1931 Fourth of July celebration



Thomas Edison commemorating the Fourth of July is featured in a series of recently digitized home movies that provide a rare look into the personal life of the inventor and his family. Thomas Edison National Historical Park partnered with the Library of Congress to digitize footage that originally belonged to Edison's son Charles.

The home movies, which range in length from 1-3 minutes and were photographed on 16 mm Kodak safety film, were stored in the museum collection of Thomas Edison NHP for decades before park staff worked with the Library of Congress to have them digitally restored.

The films include the last known footage of Thomas Edison celebrating the Fourth of July 1931 with members of his family, including his wife Mina, son Charles and his wife Carolyn, and son Theodore and his wife Anna at the front door of their home, Glenmont. Thomas Edison died three months later, on October 18, 1931.

“Home movies can provide a much more accurate view of our past: unrehearsed and unpolished. This is especially true of the home movies of the famous. You often get to see a side of them they hide from the public lens,” said Library of Congress Nitrate Film Vault Leader George Willeman.

Other footage in the collection show visits by Charles and Carolyn Edison to the Grosse Point, Michigan home of Edsel and Eleanor Ford, to Grand Canyon National Park during a vacation in the southwestern U.S., and to the New Jersey shore with friends.

The home movies also capture the construction and landscaping of Landmore, the home Charles and Carolyn built in Llewellyn Park near Glenmont, exterior views of George Eastman’s home in Rochester, New York, and a July 1, 1931, visit from King Prajadhipok of Siam to Thomas Edison’s West Orange Laboratory and Glenmont. Later that month the king, who had a keen interest in American science and technology, visited the top of the Empire State Building and rode in the US Navy dirigible Los Angeles at Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Charles Edison (1890-1969) was the second child of Thomas and Mina Edison. In June 1916 he became chairman of the Board of Directors of Thomas A. Edison, Inc. Two years later, he married Carolyn Hawkins. In August 1926 he succeeded his father as president of the Edison company. In January 1937 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Charles Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He served as Secretary of the Navy from January-June 1940 before resigning to run a successful campaign for Governor of New Jersey. Charles was the state’s 42nd governor from 1940 to 1944.

“We appreciate the relationship with the Library of Congress that made the digitization of these films possible,” said park superintendent Tom Ross. “We thank the Library of Congress for helping us share these unfiltered glimpses of the Edison family with the world.”

All eight films are available on Thomas Edison NHP’s YouTube channel.

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