Learn about Edison

Where the Age of Invention Was Born

Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb, and many other devices enriching and simplifying our lives, took his first breath in Milan, Ohio, in 1847. The Birthplace Museum proudly displays a unique collection of rare Edisonia. This includes several of Edison’s early inventions, documents, and family keepsakes.

From February through December, The Birthplace welcomes visitors. You can find it at 9 North Edison Drive in Milan, Ohio (near Exit 118 of the Ohio Turnpike). Come, explore and discover how this phenomenal man came of age and initiated the Age of Invention. His wife Mina and his daughter Madeleine opened The Edison Birthplace as a touching tribute to the humble beginnings of an extraordinary man.

Our unique position as the only Edison site involving family members makes us special. Great-grandchildren as well as a great-great-great-great niece serve on our Board of Trustees, while a great-great-great nephew presides as President.

The Edison Family

John Edison, the great-grandfather of the inventor, settled in New Jersey during the colonial era originally. He farmed a vast expanse of land near West Orange, New Jersey, in the 1730s. (Thomas A. Edison later made his home in this area some 160 years afterward.) With the shifting politics of the times, family fortunes varied. John Edison, similar to many affluent landowners of the time, showed loyalty to the Loyalist cause during the Revolution. As a result, imprisonment, and for a time, a death sentence had his name on it. Still, the efforts of his prominent Whig relatives brought him reprieve from this grim fate.

Nonetheless, authorities confiscated his lands, leading the family to venture north to Nova Scotia. The Edisons stayed in Nova Scotia until 1811 before relocating to Vienna, Ontario. Edison’s grandfather, Captain Samuel Edison, sided with the British in the War of 1812.In Ontario, Edison’s father, Samuel, crossed paths with and married Nancy Elliott, a school teacher and daughter of a captain in Washington’s army, Ebenezer Matthews Elliott. The younger Samuel found himself tangled in another political conflict—the much later and unsuccessful Canadian counterpart of the American Revolution, known as the Papineau-MacKenzie Rebellion.

The rebellion’s unsuccessful outcome put Samuel on the run, forcing him to cross the border into the United States. After surviving countless dangers and hardships, Samuel finally arrived in the town of Milan, Ohio, where he chose to build a life. Here in Milan, he made a name for himself manufacturing roof shingles and called for Nancy and their five children to join him.

The Town of Milan

When the Edison family came to join Samuel in Milan around 1840, the town was starting to experience its period of unprecedented prosperity. Because it sat at the confluence of the Huron River and a canal constructed to connect Milan to the Great Lakes, the town evolved into a bustling grain port. Commodities from every corner of the state found their way to Milan in long wagon trains, with loading onto ships from warehouses that lined the canal banks. (One warehouse even stands still by the deserted canal basin.)

In 1847, this port witnessed the shipment of 917,800 bushels of wheat, securing its position as the second-largest wheat-shipping port for an inland sea globally, second only to the Ukrainian city of Odessa. Milan also transformed into a shipbuilding center, crafting 75 lake vessels between 1840 and 1866. However, by 1850, the emergence of railroads and subsequent transformation in transportation modalities choked off the town’s booming prosperity.

People abandoned the canal and the shipyard over time, resulting in the disappearance of the warehouses. Milan’s “golden age,” which had lasted for approximately ten years, came to a halt — although grain shipments persisted until 1865.

The Birthplace House

Records show that Nancy Elliott Edison, mother of Thomas Alva Edison, bought the lot where this house stands in 1841. In the fall of the same year, Nancy and Samuel Edison began the construction of their home, following Samuel’s design. Their son, Thomas Alva Edison, was born in the house on February 11, 1847. In 1854, Edison’s parents sold the house and the family relocated to Port Huron, Michigan.

For the following forty years, the Birthplace remained outside of family ownership. In 1894, Marion Edison Page, Edison’s sister, purchased the house and installed a bathroom and other modern conveniences. In 1906, Edison came into ownership of his birthplace. Upon his last visit in 1923, he was surprised to find his childhood home still illuminated by lamps and candles! After Thomas A. Edison passed away from complications of diabetes on October 18, 1931, his wife, Mina Miller Edison, and their daughter, Mrs. John Eyre Sloane, took it upon themselves to transform his birthplace into a public memorial and museum.

The museum opened its doors to the public on the inventor’s birth centennial in 1947. Restoration efforts have preserved the house to reflect its 19th Century appearance as closely as possible. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the original Edison furniture was lost in relocations and a devastating fire at their Port Huron home, making it impossible to collect much of the original furniture. Thus, the family’s gifts and loans have been complemented by those from friends, including in certain cases, acquisitions of period household articles.

Now, the Edison Birthplace Association, Inc., a private, non-profit organization, supervises this National Historic Site.

A list of patents – too long to list every one.

The downloadable PDF contains a list of all the patents granted to Thomas A. Edison, listed in chronological order.

To find more information on them, please visit the Edison Papers.

Biographical, scientific, and cultural information relating to Thomas Edison.

All the information you'd need on Thomas Edison.

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