MILAN, Ohio - In a room where the late afternoon spills through the window washing the floor with pools of sunshine, lived Thomas Edison, a child who would grow up to a greatness far beyond his parents' expectations.
The Milan, Ohio birthplace of the man who invented the incandescent electric light bulb and about 1,400 other items is a museum and open to those who want to know about the man from Ohio who brought a new light into the world.
Milan, a village of 1,400 in Erie County, is 57 miles west of Cleveland. It is situated almost halfway between two metropolitan areas. From an airplane on any night flight, Cleveland and Toledo pulse with street lights, automobile headlights, and beacons. It was Thomas Alva Edison who began that process of pouring electric current through filaments inside vacuum bulbs to create light.
When he was born in 1847, that backroom on the three-story brick house, would have been lighted by candles once the evening sky turned dark. Thirty-two years later, Edison would change the world.
In that birth room today, there is an electric light on the wall. It is not the first Edison bulb, but it is of that generation.
"We don't turn it on because it uses direct current instead of alternating current [AC]," said Melissa Vartorella, tour guide at the Edison Birthplace Museum.
However, the bulb would work were it to receive DC power. She is certain of that fact.
"There are several light bulbs of this type that are actually working in other museums," said Vartorella. "I know there is one in a fire station in Texas that I've personally seen that has been burning for over 127 years," she added. "It has never been shut off."
In the house and in an accompanying frame building next door are several of Edison's inventions. Among them is the phonograph, which includes a cylinder on which Edison recorded the music of a band.
"I think the phonograph is the big one," said Robert Wheeler, great-great-grand nephew of the inventor.
"The phonograph changed the way we think because it is like a time machine," said Wheeler, who still lives in Milan on property which has been handed down from the sister of Edison.
"You've taken something that has happened and you bring it into the present," he said, showing how a recording of sound can be kept long after the sound is made. "I don't have to have a musician in front of me to hear a Mozart piece. I can play them over and over."
Throughout the Edison home, which contains chairs, sofas, and tables from Edison's early years of life, a visitor may walk from room to room. There are portraits and photographs of Edison and his parents throughout the house. The house is only a short distance from the Milan Village Square where American flags fly from lamp posts with replicas of Edison's first light bulb glowing from their tops. The square is lined with old buildings, some of which go back generations.
Milan seems almost a village which, in parts, is stopped in time. The village square seems a throwback to the time of Edison. Ironically, in 1847, the year of Edison's birth, the community was once a bustling hub of commerce. For 15 years, Milan prospered as one of the busiest ports on the Great Lakes because of the village's tie to the Milan Canal. Large numbers of wagons bringing agricultural products would line up for miles to the south. But that period of commerce ended.
Almost everywhere in the community today, there are references to Thomas Edison. On the village square, there is a life-size painting of a white-haired Edison, with hands in his pockets, peering back into the observer's eyes. Milan sings the praises of its most famous son. There is even a statue of Edison as a child at the side of his mother, Nancy Elliott Edison.
Although Edison lived in the house in Milan only seven years before his father, Sam Edison, moved the family to Port Huron, MI, the seeds of the inventor's later greatness are seen.
There are many references to his mother, whom Wheeler said was a driving force in her young son's development. Edison lost 90 percent of his hearing during his childhood, but he turned much of his attention toward the recording of sound. Perhaps it was his physical handicap which fueled that interest. At any rate, his mother encouraged her son to seek answers to the questions he had. Edison was a tinkerer, even as a child, experimenting with contraptions he found trying to improve their performances.
Though it was years later he invented the light bulb, the phonograph, the film projector, and several hundred other things, the seeds of his inventive mind came early, during his childhood which he spent in Milan, Ohio, in a home that is open to the public for tours. It is located a 9 N. Edison Drive, Milan. The village is about two miles south of Exit 188 of the Ohio Turnpike.
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