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Published: Monday, 8/4/2008

Edison home in Milan sheds light on inventor's life

BY MATTHEW EISEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Wendy Wolfkill gives visitors a tour of the Edison Birthplace Museum in Milan, Ohio. The home's three floors are brimming with Edison family period memorabilia as well as an array of Thomas Edison's inventions. Wendy Wolfkill gives visitors a tour of the Edison Birthplace Museum in Milan, Ohio. The home's three floors are brimming with Edison family period memorabilia as well as an array of Thomas Edison's inventions.
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MILAN, Ohio - In a classically timeworn Milan home, a set of creaky, narrow stairs leads to a bedroom illuminated by four light bulbs that reveal a medley of family heirlooms and a wooden bed cloaked in an intricate white spread.

The occupants never would have seen their possessions so well lit in February, 1847. They would have to wait for the family's youngest son, Thomas A. Edison, born in a downstairs bed during that cold winter, to invent the incandescent light bulb 32 years later.

The birthplace of America's pre-eminent inventor, a well-preserved brick rectangle guarded by a white picket fence and neatly manicured shrubbery, sits only a few miles off the Ohio Turnpike, almost equidistant between Toledo and Cleveland.

Museum director Annette Kluding stands in front of the home where Thomas Edison spent his first seven years. Museum director Annette Kluding stands in front of the home where Thomas Edison spent his first seven years.
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The restored home opened as a museum on the centennial of Mr. Edison's birth under the direction of his daughter Madeline and remains a source of pride for the small Ohio community.

"The city even switched the lighting around the [town] square in Milan so they look like old fashioned bulbs," said Museum Director Annette Kluding, who attended nearby Edison High School.

"It seems like it's always been part of this community," she added.

"They really are proud to say he's from this area."

The museum, largely supported by admission charges and membership dues, brings roughly 7,500 guests to Milan each year, Ms. Kluding said.

Guided tours of the home where Mr. Edison lived for his first seven years wind visitors through three floors brimming with Edison family period pieces - modest dresses, china, perfume and cologne bottles, cooking devices, a pair of Mr. Edison's slippers - each with its own significance.

An intricate doll with a head made of china and a straw-filled body ensconced in the scraps of a child's dress hangs in an upstairs room, a 19th-century representation of girls' toys.

An unassuming cradle bench enshrouded by a faded olive and yellow pad squats in a front, first-floor room.

Thomas Edison s bedroom has been restored with period furniture. The inventor was born in the home on Feb. 11, 1847.
Thomas Edison s bedroom has been restored with period furniture. The inventor was born in the home on Feb. 11, 1847.
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It belonged to Mr. Edison's mother, Nancy Elliot Edison, and is likely where she rocked her infant.

Guide David Wagner, a 22-year-old student at Hillsdale College in Michigan, who fills his tour with a near-endless stream of Edison facts and a sprinkling of clever, prerehearsed jokes, first introduces guests to a picture of Mr. Edison together with his good friend Henry Ford.

The two are said to have developed a mutual admiration of one another's inventing prowess and even owned side-by-side winter homes in Fort Myers, Fla. - the site of another Edison museum.

Mr. Wagner employs various pictures throughout the home to recount Mr. Edison's life, from childhood to death in 1931.

An image of Samuel Edison, Mr. Edison's father, launches the veteran guide into the story of how the Canadian expatriate came to Milan in 1839 and began building the home in the fall of 1841.

Michael Jones and Kyleen Newlander of Pennsylvania exit the museum, which opened on the centennial of Edison s birth. Michael Jones and Kyleen Newlander of Pennsylvania exit the museum, which opened on the centennial of Edison s birth.
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The Edisons - mother, father, and seven children - lived in the four-bedroom house until they were forced to move to Port Huron, Mich., in 1854 after the railroad bypassed Milan, economically denting the town.

"What surprised me was the diversity of the inventions," said Peter Cannell of Youngstown as he surveyed the array of Mr. Edison's creations, such as the phonograph and the motion picture camera.

Mr. Edison acquired 1,093 American patents for his inventions during his lifetime.

Gabrielle Perrin, who came to the museum with her husband and two children, Moses, 7, and Amalia, 9, from Shaker Heights, Ohio, said she remembers the kitchen from a visit with her grandparents as a child and still considers it the most interesting.

Daughter Amalia "liked the garden" behind the home, where she discovered and cleverly captured a small frog, a determination Mr. Edison no doubt would have appreciated.

Contact Matthew Eisen at: meisen@theblade.com or 419-724-6077.



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