Monday, Oct 24, 2016
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Marilou Johanek


Statue slowdown: What would Thomas Edison do?



The Blade
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If Thomas Alva Edison had to rely on committees, commissions, and shifting political sensitivities, the light bulb might have stayed a theory. It might have been talked to death or shelved for lack of consensus.

If the world’s most prolific inventor were to know how long it has taken for a likeness of himself to turn from idea to reality, he’d be scratching his head in disbelief. The Milan, Ohio, native, whose life’s work changed the world, was driven by efficiency.

His genius was in finding ways to improve indispensable products. Through relentless trial and error, he created brilliant solutions to make life easier.

He accumulated more than 1,000 patents, including ones for the phonograph, the kinetoscope for viewing motion pictures, and the first practical incandescent light bulb. But he didn’t get there by attending endless meetings or procrastinating.

The scientist, entrepreneur, and inventor persevered through myriad failures to achieve success. He advanced technology for universal benefit.

Commissioning a sculpture of Mr. Edison to grace the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall is a deservedly high tribute to an Ohioan whose vast influence endures. But it has taken years for the project to move from concept to consideration of six Ohio artists who are semifinalists in a competition.

In 2006, a bipartisan committee of state lawmakers held extensive deliberations about putting a different Ohio statue in the Capitol. The committee selected Thomas Edison to replace William Allen, a 19th century congressman and governor who supported Southern slave owners.

Mr. Edison would join President James Garfield as Ohio’s representatives in the hall. The committee sought public support for its choice by putting the statue selection to a statewide vote.

Regional campaigns sprouted to support favorite-son candidates. Dayton lobbied hard for the Wright brothers. Milan went to bat for its pride and joy.

Nearly a third of the votes cast went to Mr. Edison, who narrowly edged out the Wright brothers. That was four years ago.

An issue Ohioans voted for in 2010, securing a coveted Washington pedestal for Mr. Edison, is still in the talking stage. They might have figured that a decisive vote for the Ohio inventor meant the project would proceed quickly.

It didn’t. The ballot decision needed to be blessed by the General Assembly. The Senate was agreeable. The House was not. The statue stalled.

Two years after Ohioans voted for their national statuary hall choice, legislative approval of the issue was tacked onto a wide-ranging budget bill. It finally made it out of the Statehouse and onto Gov. John Kasich’s desk.

Two years later, another panel was tasked with picking a sculptor, approving the proposed design, and overseeing essential fund-raising. The search is down to six sculptors.

But deadlines for selection are tough to pin down. The commission expects the artist to be chosen and work to begin in the next few months.

The grand unveiling of the Edison statue is set for Oct. 21, 2015 — unless it’s not ready or political complications arise. Also, unless final permission from the state of Ohio, the Capitol architect, and the congressional joint committee on the Library of Congress is withheld. Or additional funds to install one statue and remove another need to be raised.

Proponents of the Edison project are confident that once an artist gets the go-ahead to complete the statue, it will quickly proceed to its place of tribute. But the process has dragged on from committee to public vote to commission to more waiting.

In the years it’s taken Ohio to act on his statue, who knows what Mr. Edison might have accomplished? It’s time to switch on the light, turn up the sound, roll film, and get it done.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at:

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