Robert Wheeler

1. Who are you?

I’m Robert Wheeler. I was born in Cleveland in April 1957. Lived mainly in the city with time also spent in Milan on the family farm. Went to college and then switched to electronics school after two years building on interests developed partly by building a theremin (instrument most recently known from the soundtrack for the movie First Man) and learning to play it. Balanced a corporate job with playing in bands for years. Over the past 10 years, my wife Linda and I have devoted a lot of time and energy to growing healthy, organic food.

2. Your favorite animal and why?

My favorite animals are cats and donkeys. Cats are independent and have to choose you, donkeys have a bliss about them.

3. Are you related to Edison?

Yes. Thomas was the youngest of seven, his oldest sister Marion is my great great grandmother. We live on her farm. Thomas’s first memories were of Homer Page (Marion Edison’s fiancee) spinning a silver dollar on the floor of the sitting room at the birthplace. Homer Page married Marion Edison. His experiment of sitting on the eggs to hatch them happened while he visiting at his sisters farm, at the time Marion and Homer lived a mile west of where we live now.

4. What do you do for the Birthplace?
I started as a tour guide as a teenager. When my father Dinsmore, an original trustee, passed away in 1981, I was asked to take his place on the board. Currently, I am the President of the Board of Trustees. My job is to be the muse to engage and support people who have skills, caring and commitment beyond anything I could wish for in supporting the mission of the birthplace, which was officially opened to the public by his wife Mina and his daughter Madeliene in 1947.
5. How do you like working at the Birthplace? Is the staff nice and friendly?
We have the best staff ever, led with great enthusiasm by Lois Wolf. They get great reviews on Google and Trip Advisor. I don’t work at the Birthplace day-to-day, I’m the guy behind the curtain. 
6. What’s your favorite Thomas Edison Quote?

I love to share what I know and I’ve learned how important the women in his life were to him, and to the existence of the Birthplace. Nancy, his mother, changed the world because of her belief in her son. I’ll choose:

“My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.” 

Through her faith in her son, his mom changed the world, although she did not live long enough to see him become successful. I’ve learned that while we may not become Edisons ourselves, maybe we can influence someone to reach their full potential.

7. Edison or Tesla. Easy one. What’s the deal with Tesla? Do you think it’s nonsense?
It’s nonsense. Edison brought things to market with his teams of collaborators, creating things we could not live without. The first to record sound and play it back. The first to record motion on film. Just those two advancements are revolutionary.
8. Your Life
I’ve been married to my beautiful wife Linda for over 30 years, we have one daughter Alex. We live on Marion Edison Page’s farm, (his oldest sister) and live in her house. 6 cats, one dog and a donkey (and we board a horse). sometimes chickens. Sold furniture in the Flats in Cleveland and after Electronic school, I worked for Digital Equipment Corp. for 19 years as field service. Then I was Operations Manager and System Administrator at a local Hospital, I did care and feeding of Digital Alphas and IBM AS/400 – i5’s. For the past 25 years I have played synth/theremin/electronics in Pere Ubu, the worlds best avant-garage rock band,
9. What are your memorable experiences representing the Birthplace?

There are many. Here are two.

Thomas Edison was awarded a Technical Grammy in 2010 and my wife Linda, daughter Alex and I attended the event along with other Edison family members. Alex and I sat next to Russell Brand and Katy Perry. We met so many people. I’ve had a lifelong interest in music, especially combining electronics and innovation. I built my first theremin in 1981 in electronics school, and as mentioned, I play in Pere Ubu.

I have been a liasion for Milan and our sister city, Yawata City Japan, (where Edison got bamboo for the light bulb) since 1989, and been fortunate to have represented Milan and the Edison family at 2 celebrations in Yawata, 28 years apart. My wife Linda and daughter Alex went both times. Alex was 2 months old the 1sttime!

We have had a couple of video conferences with students from Edison Schools and Yawata City, matching elementary, middle school and high school students to interact and ask questions, and we participate with our sister city in other ways. Being able to help with cultural understanding is a thrill. We have a lot to learn from each other.