Actually considered to be a suburb of and commuter town that feeds the New York City metropolitan area, Edison has grown over time from humble roots into the critical New Jersey township that it is today. Its history and background is full of fun facts; some of its quirky history is highlighted below. Everyone considering moving to Edison should know more about this city and its unique history.
Originally, Edison was named after the Raritan tribe of the Lenape Native Americans, who lived in the area. "Raritan" is actually how the Dutch settlers pronounced "wawitan," which means "forked river" or "overflowing stream."
Edison is actually the fifth-biggest municipality in New Jersey. Back in the 1920s, it was still fairly rural-residential, but it grew quickly. By 1954, it had already grown enough that local residents voted to change its name because of the several other locations nearby called "Raritan" that made commuting around the area confusing. Two different names were proposed: Edison and Nixon; the winner is evident.
The story behind the proposed name of "Nixon" is interesting. Part of Edison used to be referred to as Nixon, named after local community leader and business owner Lewis Nixon. Nixon had opened a chemicals processing facility, Nixon Nitration Works, in town at the beginning of World War I. In 1924, this facility experienced a massive explosion followed by a disastrous fire that killed twenty residents and destroyed a significant part of the town.
While in hindsight it might make sense why local residents weren't keen to continue calling anything "Nixon," at the time it was such a part of everyday usage that it made sense as a proposal. Still, the name of Edison was selected and has stuck ever since.
Edison has come a long way since it was first incorporated in 1870 under the name of Raritan Township. Currently, it's the fifth largest municipality in the state of New Jersey, with a total population of almost 100,000 people as of the 2010 Census.
It comes as no surprise that Edison has not just one but two sister cities. As a refresher, the "Sister Cities" program is run by Sister Cities International (SCI) to facilitate long-term cultural exchange partnerships. Local elected officials recognize this partnership and work to encourage residents of each city to learn about each other. Edison's sister cities are Shijiazhuang, which is the largest city in China's Hebei province, and Vadodara, the third-largest city in India's Gujarat state.
Menlo Park was where famed inventor Thomas Edison chose to open his laboratory back in 1876. With that opening, Edison township became the home of several key inventions and a hotbed for innovation.
By 1874, Edison had developed a more advanced version of Samuel Morse's original 1830s telegraph machine by vastly improving on the receiver, repeater, and transmitter used in these devices. Edison's device used a metal stylus to make marks on paper that was chemically treated so that it could be used in a typewriter machine to then send messages. Where it innovated most was in size and speed, because it could send longer messages faster than any other prototype. In fact, Edison's telegraph could record as many as one thousand words per minute.
That's not the only aspect of telecommunications in which Edison was ahead of his time. He developed his carbon telephone transmitter in Menlo Park, which could transmit voice communications over longer distances than previous models—including Alexander Graham Bell's telephone. Edison's new transmitter used current from a battery and resistance from carbon to create a signal and control its strength.
From here, Edison thought: "if we can transmit messages, what if we could record them and listen to them later?" This was how Edison's phonograph began. When sound vibrated across a diaphragm, it could simultaneously push a stylus across a cylinder covered with wax paper; this would leave an indentation pattern that aligned with the sound. Edison's first live prototype used metal foil instead of the wax paper, but he earned a patent after it successfully recorded "Mary Had A Little Lamb."
Many people believe that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but the truth is that he made the first viable light bulb that could go to market. In the second half of the 1870s—again, in Menlo Park—Edison designed a light bulb centered around a vacuum, inside which a metal filament was placed and heated up until it produced light. Edison played around extensively with a range of prototypes and even created a bulb with a bamboo filament, with some of his prototypes lasting a then unheard-of 1,200 hours.
Between the light bulb and his phonograph, it follows that Edison created his own version of a movie camera in his Kinetograph. Although better technologies replaced his, Edison's entrepreneurial spirit took over and his laboratory was a key player in the emerging movie studio scene before 1918.
Although Henry Ford's Model T, complete with an internal combustion engine, took the limelight away from Edison, he contributed to battery technology when he developed a better battery than the world had seen before. In 1910, production commenced in Menlo Park on Edison's alkaline battery, which was lighter and more reliable than any model preceding it. Edison's battery gained widespread usage in mining, locomotive units, and even submarines.
These are just some of the highlights of Edison's contributions to the world of inventions and technological innovation, and it ignores the many people who worked with him (and went on to successful careers) as well as everyone who was inspired by his work. To think that all of this was centered in what we now refer to as Edison, NJ, offers a glimpse of the historical legacy behind this township.
There is plenty more to learn about Edison, with an entrepreneurial and curious spirit laying beneath its humble facade as a bedroom suburb full of single-family homes and cozy townhomes and condos. That desire to always tinker and learn more combines well here with the dream of starting a family, and creates the community feeling enveloping Edison, New Jersey—for which it is both celebrated and admired.