Before Silicon Valley, NJ Reigned As Nation’s Center Of Innovation
People from New Jersey are used to defending their state. But, in fact, New Jersey has a history to brag about. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the phonograph and the movie camera there. Many decades later, Bell Labs invented the transistor in the state.
Geography favored New Jersey. On one end, it borders New York City, and on the other end is Philadelphia. That means easy access to Wall Street financing, transportation and industry headquarters.
It all started in the 18th century, when Alexander Hamilton took one look at the plunging Passaic River waterfall in Paterson and his eyes lit up with dreams of industry. That came true for silk, textiles and locomotives. Then in 1870, a smart young inventor named Thomas Edison set up shop in Newark.
“The things that make it attractive for Edison are the things that kind of make it attractive for a lot of aspiring people who come to New Jersey today,” says Leonard DeGraaf, an archivist at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, N.J.
“Edison has the resources,” DeGraaf adds. “He could live and work anywhere, and the fact that he decides to stay in New Jersey I think says something about how he perceived New Jersey as a good place for him to set up laboratories and build companies and manufacture his inventions.”
Edison moved a bit south to Menlo Park, and, like a literal precursor to many a cartoon character, a light bulb lit up. The light bulb was one of his more than 1,000 patents. By the time he was working away on his phonograph and his moving camera, Edison had invented a new way of inventing itself.