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Curator's Notes


Most web exhibits emerge from a previous life, usually one that involved display in a museum. This exhibit is no exception. In fact, it had several previous lives.

In 1985 the ETL Testing Laboratories donated approximately 200 photographs of Edison to the Smithsonian. Most of these photos were taken after the founding of Edison's laboratory at West Orange, which stimulated us to think that they might form the basis for a traveling exhibit on the last half of Edison's life. ETL agreed to provide the necessary funding.

The result was an exhibit with the title "Edison After the Electric Light: The Challenge of Success." It opened in 1986 and appeared at two dozen locations over the course of a little over two years. Conceptual development was by Bernard S. Finn (Curator, National Museum of American History) and Joyce Bedi (Curator, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering of the IEEE); design was by David Ellis and John Porter. The exhibit was circulated by the Association of Science-Technology Centers. The Edison National Historic Site provided additional photographs (in fact, about 80% of the total).

In 1994 the exhibit appeared in revised form (the original had been designed for free-standing units, this one was mounted on walls) for a hallway gallery near the cafeteria of the National Museum of American History, where it stayed for about a year. The title was revised as "Edison After Forty: The Challenge of Success," and the text was slightly altered to emphasize the problems Edison had in dealing with the new technical age that he had helped to create. Bernard Finn again was curator, Designer was Constantine Raitsky, Project Manager Carol Cox, Editor Robert Selim, Production by the Production Division--all in the Museum.

The 150th anniversary of Edison's birth was in 1996. To mark this, copies of the exhibit were made and given to museums in Japan, India, Yugoslavia, and China with the understanding that they would be circulated to several locations in those countries.

Finally, a revised version (with a third as many photographs) was published as "Thomas Alva Edison After Forty: The Challenge of Success" in the magazine USA Today (July, 1994), 84-92.

The text of this web exhibit has been modified slightly from the 1994 museum exhibit.

Bernard S. Finn, Curator
December 1998

Comments & questions:  Electricity Collections

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The Challenge of Success
Before Forty
Changes At Forty
Home Life
The New Technical World
Fame And Its Distractions
Edison In His Eighties