Anecdotes About Edison

Edison had a total of six children. Initially there was, Marion, Thomas Jr., and William Leslie by his first wife Mary Stillwell. Because of his love for telegraphy and related technologies, he nicknamed Marion and Thomas Jr. “dot” and “dash”.

Tom Edison holding daughter Madelene and son Charles

Tom Edison holding daughter Madelene and son Charles

Mary Stillwell dies young and tragically, whereupon Edison’s closest friends help him find a new wife….Mina Miller of Akron, OH. Mina is only about 19 when she marries Thomas, who is then about 39. They have three more children, Madeleine, Charles and Theodore. [Theodore is named after Mina’s brother who died of wounds incurred at the famous charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War.]

Mina came from a prominent and large family in Akron OH, her father an inventor like Edison. She attended finishing school and was prepared for a life of decision-making and prominence. She had seen firsthand the gatherings of prominent peoples in her childhood home, and was accustomed to displaying good manners and attention to social protocols. She understood how to run a home and social activities. She was suited and prepared to be the wife of the world’s greatest inventor, home executive, civic contributor and philanthropist.


Edison's Desk in his house in Glenmont

Thomas Edison was quite a free spirit, loving his role as inventor and manager of creative teams of fellow inventors. He worked many hours at his lab, often 90 or more a week. He often had little need for social gatherings and formal dinners, considering them a waste of time when he could be inventing. Mina arranged for the formal dinners at the Edison mansion, Glenmont; but irascible old Thomas sought many ways to get out of them. Daughter Madeleine has a wonderful memory of her father’s excuses to skip dinner …

“He would feign indigestion and skip dinner … being the only man to get indigestion before dinner!”

Whereupon he would sneak into the kitchen, grab some food to eat, and retire to his upstairs living room via the servant’s stairs, close the door, and invent and plan the night away.

Madeleine leaves another endearing remembrance, this time involving her. She remembers sneaking off to the seldom used home library and closing the beautiful pocket doors behind her. She would then retreat to the secluded corner of the room, behind the fireplace, and read some of the racy novels of the time!

The family living room at Glenmont was the scene for many remembrances as well. Mina and Tom’s desks were there side by side, he studying and she taking care of social business. Often the kids were enlisted to help Edison find information in his large technical library there within easy reach. They would locate bits of information for “papa” and place little tabs of note paper at the appropriate pages in the textbooks they piled on Papa’s desk for him to look through. Many of those little white tabs are still there today.

Family legend has it that the small table in front of the fireplace upon which sits the family Parcheesi game, was the location of fierce and pitched battles between Papa and the kids. The kids vividly remember Papa inventing new rules as the game progressed so he could ultimately become the game winner!


When Thomas was courting Mina, he taught her Morse code, and actually proposed to her tapping out “will you marry me” on the palm of her hand. She replied “yes” by tapping out the correct Morse code on his palm!

They had nicknames for each other. She called him “dearie” and he called her “billie”.

In their bedroom are buttons on the wall. Most visitors think they are for summoning servants; but these are for summoning the kids from their rooms. Chances are if mom or dad buzzed your attendance, it was usually a serious matter!

On Christmas morning, the kids would assemble at the bedroom door to sing carols to their sleepy-eyed parents.

Speaking of servants … the house usually was stocked with 4-6 servants; but if a big event was taking place, this number could swell to as many as 20. Working at the Edison home was a nice affair, with decent pay, room and board available. The servants had their own room off the kitchen for relaxation and meals. Female staff slept on the upper floors of the mansion, while males slept above the garage.

Son Charles driving Edison around the Glenmont property

Charles Edison driving his father,Thomas Edison, around the Glenmont property

As a matter of fact, it was not unusual for family members to sleep on the same floor with staff. Charles occupied one of the big guest bedroom on the third floor of Glenmont….in what the staff referred to as Mr. Charles’s room. Also sleeping upstairs was the beloved music teacher, Lucy Bogue, a later traveling companion, confidant, and assistant to Mina when Thomas died in 1931. After Mina’s death in 1947, Lucy is allowed by the children to live in the home until she dies in 1953. Lucy becomes the first curator of Glenmont and gives tours of the famous home!

Thomas referred to his servants as his “league of nations”, as many came from different countries of the world. Every Christmas, Mrs. Edison would celebrate her staff with different Christmas trees assembled in the conservatory. The most memorable one was the Swedish candle box Christmas tree which today is still assembled for visitors to the mansion to enjoy during the holidays. It was inaugurated to honor the many Scandinavian workers she employed at the mansion.


President Calvin Coolidge looks on as Edison works his motion picture apparatus

President Calvin Coolidge looks on as Edison works his motion picture apparatus

Glenmont hosted many visitors over the years as well as sleepover guests, a prominent sampling of which included Henry Ford and his wife Clara, the kings of Siam and Sweden, Maria Montessori, Orville Wright, famed environmentalist John Burroughs, Charles Lindbergh, General Blackjack Pershing, U.S. presidents Hoover and Wilson, George Eastman [of Eastman Kodak fame] and Harvey Firestone.


Young Theodore was the fellow who ran a 2X4 wood stud through the corner of the huge and beautiful painting on the grand stair case. He was running upstairs to conduct some sort of experiment or building project when he incurred this transgression. Fortunately, the famous painting as able to be repaired.

Theodore distinguished himself once more when he stuffed fireworks down the hole leading under the rotating table in the garage. The fireworks set-off the combustible gases and oils that had dripped down there over the years, resulting in an explosion that rendered the table no longer capable of rotating.

Incidentally, Theodore is the only Edison child who like his father becomes an inventor. Dad also had a penchant for explosives and made his own to entertain the family every Independence Day … Tom’s favorite holiday. The neighbors were treated to a good series of thumping explosions on that day, courtesy of the Edison chem lab!


Tom was not a good driver, often roadside ditches and trees conspired against him. Many of the photos of Tom riding in a vehicle show someone else driving, often his lovely wife Mina or one of their sons. The great inventor sometimes rationalized this away by claiming he used the riding time to think. Hey, you cannot be good at everything.


Because Mina was such a lover of nature, and bird watching, Thomas came to the rescue at Glenmont by electrifying one of the bird feeders outside the conservatory, so water in it would not freeze in the winter. An electrical switch in the Edison bedroom, just above the conservatory allowed the birdfeeder to be heated. The birdhouse is still there.


In the family den and drawing room, the Edison children used the pocket doors in each room as stage curtains to put on plays for their parents or guests who were visiting.


Many visitors to the home notice a slight sag to the ceiling of the grand entrance. This deflection has been largely corrected and reinforced with steel supports in the ceiling itself. The sag was caused when Edison had a large bathroom and tub installed between the upstairs family living room and master bedroom. This probably coincided with the major 1905 renovation where the living room was tripled in size from the original den it was designed as. The construction vaulted the outside wall of the den over the entire porte cochere` most likely stressing the original building and ceiling structural components in the vicinity, thus necessitating the later steel ceiling supports. Even greater steel support struts were installed decades later in the entire house to prevent center sagging of the home.


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