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Thomas Edison and the Rubber Men

-More than just Camping Buddies-

In previous blogs we talked about the camping buddies [a.k.a. The Vagabonds] Edison, Ford and Firestone. [See ; and ] But they did more than just enjoy the wilds and bucolic scenery.

During WWI, the rubber men realized a cut-off of the imported national rubber supply could seriously impact their businesses, and in 1927 set-up the Edison Botanic Research Company. They combined to discover serious alternate sources of rubber.

In 1928, a well-equipped lab was built on the site of the Edison Ft. Myers home, with research begun in early 1929, largely by Edison and a small staff.

The project was seed-funded with $25,000 contributions from each of the rubber men. Using nearby plots of land to experiment upon, Edison researched and cultivated a wide variety of possible plant species that could be used to develop the alternate rubber.

Today, we would recognize Edison’s cultivation efforts as an application of biomass technology [check out an earlier piece we did on biomass]. There was talk among the rubber men of establishing biomass farms of promising plant species that might be grown in Florida and Georgia.

After testing more than 17,000 plant samples, Edison selected Goldenrod as the most suitable, developing a 12 foot tall strain of the common plant that yielded 12% latex [normally, the plant would only grow 3-4 feet tall with a 5% yield of latex].

The Giant Goldenrod Hybrid Plant  [a sample of which exists still at the West Orange Labs].

Edison worked at both the Ft. Myers lab and at his chemistry lab at West Orange up to his death in October 1931. Thereafter, his brother-in-law John Miller led the research operation; but in1936, Ford, Firestone, and Mina Edison dissolved the Edison Botanic Research Company as they could not make artificial rubber production economic.

According to the website  , in 2014, the American Chemical Society designated the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory as a National Historic Chemical Landmark. The lab is the only site in the state of Florida to receive this title and is a true national treasure!

Thomas Edison said, “The world owes nothing to any man, but every man owes something to the world.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.
Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.
How Thomas Edison Napped His Way To Success

How Thomas Edison Napped His Way To Success

Over the last 100+ years, literary and technical professionals have talked about the diaphanous state between being awake and just drifting off to sleep….that gauzy, dream-like interval which experts call “hypnagogia.”

Creative icons like Thomas Edison, Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Walter Scott, Salvador Dalí, Edgar Allen Poe, John Kennedy, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton have credited hypnagogia and related states with enhancing their creativity. Even Aristotle talked about it.

People having a hypnagogic experience often report a floating sensation

Most people know that Edison was a cat napper, enjoying a nice, little “siesta” to recharge. Knowing about the hypnagogic state, Old Tom did what he did best, and started experimenting with it. His experiments went something like this:

  • Sit in a chair and get comfortable and quiet
  • Hold a steel ball in your hand
  • Start sleeping, relax your grip and drop the ball onto a steel surface or plate
  • Wake up and immediately record what you dreamed or experienced.

He claimed that these experiments, sometimes assisted by his staff, helped him develop some new ideas or work through existing problems.

Statue of Thomas Edison at The Edison & Ford Winter Estate in Fort Myers with a steel ball in his right hand

If you look closely at the above statue of Edison at the Fort Myers winter residence in Florida, you will notice the steel ball in his left hand to acknowledge his experimentation with hypnagogia!

Each of us have experienced these near sleep episodes but may not have understood what they meant in the creative context. Leg “jerking” as one falls asleep is one common manifestation of hypnagogia; as is perhaps hearing one’s name called, a doorbell ringing, or sudden loud sounds. Some folks may experience a kind of paralysis or even some visual effects like a shifting series of colors. We all get affected differently.

The great chemist Kekule` had a hypnagogic vision of a snake swallowing its tail to arrive at the chemical representation of a new hydrocarbon. That vision resulted in the chemical representation of the ringed molecule benzene.

Thomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.” Hypnagogia and napping were one way that he brainstormed!

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.
Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Thomas Edison Pitch Contest 2019 Winners Announced

On May 15th, the Edison Innovation Foundation and PSEG Foundation gave awards to student team finalists from across the country in their annual Thomas Edison Pitch Contest. It is the 9th year of hosting this competition, which took place at the legendary Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, NJ.

The finalist teams were chosen from 45 teams in 13 states across the country who entered our contest this year. The competition sparked more bright ideas than ever, with a record of 5 different states in the finals including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, and Oklahoma! Students from elementary school also competed for the first time.

The finalists impressed the professional judge panel of entrepreneurs, engineers, and Thomas Edison experts with their entrepreneurial pitches to win a 3D Printer and more for their schools.

Here is a summary of the awards in the elementary, middle, and high school categories:



1st Place

Team IV Comfort, Shawnee Elementary School, Easton, PA

This team created an IV bag to make children’s stays in the hospital more enjoyable and efficient. This IV Bag was built into a stuffed animal backpack for optimal portability and cuteness! In their words, the invention is meant for children to feel more comfortable in the hospital than the traditional IV Stand provides!

DSC07128.jpg2nd Place

Team Toto, RN Wilentz School, Perth Amboy, NJ

This team created an alternative energy invention called The Windergy! This turbine charger was could be placed in the grill of your car in order to charge your phone with renewable energy instead of the car’s battery. Not only would this be a sustainable energy source but it also saved damage to your car’s battery and phone!

DSC07126.jpg3rd Place

Team Sky’s the True Limit, Paxinosa Elementary School, Easton, PA

This was a team on a mission to save lives, following the major storms in the Midwest this year affecting thousands of people. This automatic raft would run on wind and solar energy, be sturdy enough to stay afloat in all weather conditions, and pick up people during a big flood until help can arrive!


Middle School

IMG_65171st Place

Team Space Daisies, The Hockaday School, Dallas, TX

The Space Daisies created an updated tools for astronauts called The Buzz Gloves. Although a version of this device is being used by NASA, this team took it a step farther creating a more cost-effective and broader interpretation for their own invention. When the astronaut touches something hard enough, the gloves will make a buzz sound and light up to prevent injury and, of course, their nails from breaking!

IMG_5617.jpg2nd Place

Team Waste Warriors,  Owasso 6th Grade Center, Owasso, OK [via Skype]

This team presented their loop filtration system over Skype! They demonstrated how their invention would take used water from a house and filter it to be used again the same house – something unheard of! Using a steam generator, this invention would make the lives of homeowners with wells easier as well as recycle energy and water.

IMG_6500.jpg3rd Place

Team Orkai, Homewise Homeschooling, Olean, NY

This team created The Spinno, an enjoyable way to do accomplish your arthritis exercises! After doing a lot of trials with their own grandparents, the team developed a device to complete 3 types of exercises (squeezing, pulling, and strength) in an aesthetically pleasing and more interactive way that the traditional way to do the exercises provided by a physical therapist.


High School

IMG_6529.jpg1st Place

Team CDP, Applied Technology High School, Paramus, NJ


This team’s invention, The Puer Seat, came in response to increasing child deaths in cars. Their car seat had 3 sensors included for an affordable price to prevent improper fastening, overheating, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Parents would be notified of any dangers their child may be in by light, sound, and phone notifications before any fatalities could happen!

IMG_65382nd Place

Team C equal Square Root E over M, John P. Stevens High School, Edison, NJ

The Vacation Station created by this team is an outdoors charging system powered completely by solar and wind energy. Rather than using a portable battery, the detachable solar panels and windmill umbrella would be an fail-safe system that would provide you with a more sustainable way to charge your phone on the beach or in the park!


3rd Place

Team I-AAN, George Bush High School, Dallas, Texas [via Skype]

The Soteria bracelet was a multi-faceted alert system that this team created to prevent death of children and adults alike. The team presented this digital bracelet inspired by popular models over Skype. A removable pin on the side of the bracelet would discretely alert emergency contacts that you are in danger while the temperature and heart rate sensors would automatically signal a threat to your health.

Great job young inventors. I heard each of you loud and clear, and boy was I impressed. You truly heard Edison’s call of “There’s a better way to do it – find it!” You made my day!!

Thomas N. McCarter, founder and President of PSE&G explains a tour of the new Kearny Generating Station in 1925 to Gov. of NJ, A. Harry Moore (left) and Thomas Edison (right)

Thomas Edison and PSE&G—a Perfect Team

The Light Bulb Icon and a Utility Giant Celebrate Invention

The winners will be celebrated on May 15, 2019!

It’s May and the level of excitement at the Edison Innovation Foundation is nearing its annual peak; because this is the month for the grand awards in our annual Thomas Edison Pitch Contest. In this our 9th straight year, we have reviewed numerous entries from all over the United States, and winnowed it down to 9 finalists, three each in the elementary, middle and high school divisions. Finalists will compete in a 2-3 minute team pitch to determine the final order of awards.

What makes this year doubly blessed is our new partnership with Public Service Electric & Gas [PSE&G] Foundation. PSE&G is New Jersey’s largest electric and gas utility, with an impeccable national reputation for customer service reliability; clean power generation and a pioneer in applying photovoltaic installations on utility poles, commercial properties and rehabilitated brownfield sites.

PSE&G has the creative spirit that ties right in with the theme of the pitch contest. They have long been a booster of STEM educational programs throughout their service territories, and we are proud to have them associated with this Thomas Edison program. Students will even get the chance to be judged by one of their principal Technical Engineers, Dawn Shilkoski!

Thomas N. McCarter, founder and President of PSE&G explains a tour of the new Kearny Generating Station in 1925 to Gov. of NJ, A. Harry Moore (left) and Thomas Edison (right)

This year’s awards ceremony will take place “under the big top” at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, the site of the legendary inventor’s West Orange works where Edison combined invention and entrepreneurship to create the modern world of R&D labs, team-based problem solving, and tied it to our ever expanding concept of technology driven economic progress.

Edison is the great grandfather of modern STEM / STEAM thinking, the educational paradigm taught in schools all over the world. Our finalists will have mimicked the Edison style of thinking throughout their journey from raw idea to final design.

Edison on solar energy – “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.
Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.