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Inside Thomas Edison's Vertically Integrated MegaLab

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Thomas Edison was not an inventor for the love of the game. "I always invented to obtain money to go on inventing," he said. For a tireless mind like that, a lab had to be far more than a lab.

Edison set his eyes on a wide open site in West Orange, New Jersey, for what would become his most ambitious compound, and the birthplace of some of history's most influential inventions. Alkaline batteries, recorded music, and motion picture photography—all advanced in one place, along with a vast number of other innovations. Edison was as much a businessman as much as anything else, and knew that in order to get his ideas to the market as quickly as possible, he needed to do it all himself. Well, he and the over 200 employees he brought to his complex.


Chemistry facilities, manufacturing plants, research libraries—the "lab," constructed in 1887, spanned dozens of buildings, where both experimentation and production could take place without having to leave Edison's supervision. And to handle the cash side of things, Edison was positioned only an hour outside of New York by rail—strategically close to bankers and investors to keep the idea mill churning.


His invention teams were split into independently-functioning groups of around 10 members, whose products were patented by Edison and pushed into factories (which also furnished the team's tools) as quickly as possible. From brain to shelf, an invention never had to stray from West Orange.