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Charles Edison-a Juxtaposition of Talent

This month’s feature was written by John Keegan to honor Charles Edison, Born Aug 3 1890, the third son of Thomas Edison.

Many folks can appreciate that Charles Edison was the son of Thomas Edison, and probably did something great, but may not be able to elaborate just what it was he did. Part of the reason for this is Charles never did go trumpeting his success and gaining publicity for his advantage. He simply was not wired that way, preferring to quietly achieve for good purposes.

He felt it was expected of him to work with father Thomas, and he rose to the occasion, preferring business to college. In his early years, Charles made quite a difference in the bustling and legendary West Orange Labs. With his staff, he introduced a variety of human resource-oriented activities for the 10,000 employees who worked there, processes that are commonplace in today's Fortune 500 companies like personnel services, pay equity, employee health and safety, an infirmary, sports leagues, employee organizations, and savings programs. The effect of all this social activity was to make Thomas A. Edison Industries into a big, happy and productive family.

During World War I, he observed firsthand how Thomas transferred his famous West Orange invention process to the national scene to help the United States deal with the German U-Boat problem. Just prior to World War II, young Charles would be called upon by his nation to perform an important national security role too.

Before and during the early war years,1936-1941, as Secretary of the Navy under FDR, Charles championed: the PT boats of John F. Kennedy fame; the majestic and powerful Iowa class battleships; and, greatly improved contracting methods to build, quickly and efficiently, the many needed naval war vessels. His broad-ranging work would prepare him to take the reins as the 42nd governor of New Jersey, 1941-1944.

He said:

“I know that we can now turn to our national and our state problems not as Republicans and Democrats, but as Americans, united to serve our country." 

Who can recall how much a patron of the arts in New York City this man became; as well as a published storyteller, poet, and playwright. Not many would know of his literary pen name, "Tom Sleeper"; or of his "thimble size theater" to premier new and struggling talent.

After the governorship, Charles returned to the West Orange Labs to take control of the company business and lead it until the company was sold in the mid-1950s.

In 1948, he created a charitable foundation, originally called "The Brook Foundation", renamed the vibrant Charles Edison Fund. The Fund was created to maintain the legacy of his father, Thomas Edison, and to meet his own philanthropic goals in good and bad economic times. The Fund also engages in licensing the Edison Intellectual property, including the name, image, quotes, and artifacts of Thomas Edison ("Edison IP"). The extra revenues generated support educational programs run by its sister foundation, Edison Innovation Foundation.

In 1967, just a few years before his death, Charles published, "Flotsam and Jetsam", a reprint of most of the material originally published by him as Tom Sleeper, in the Greenwich Village magazine "Bruno's Weekly". He left behind an endearing collection of carved stone owls that grace the boardroom of the Charles Edison Fund. He is buried not far from his childhood home of Glenmont.

With all this talent in so many different areas, perhaps it is best to think of Charles Edison as a true “Renaissance Man”.

Finally, perhaps his greatest quality was his commitment to the resurrection and preservation of “Honor”.  He valued, and strongly so, man’s search for freedom and decency and the respect for eternal values which he captured in his famous speech “Do Right”, which speech was highlighted in President Reagan’s memoirs.  

When you think of Charles Edison, the “Renaissance Man”, “Do Right”.

John P. Keegan
Charles Edison Fund
Croghan Colonial Bank is new to Milan and is donating $50 for every checking, and $20 for any other account opened to either the Edison Birthplace Museum or the Edison School Booster Clubs. The customer will then choose whom they want their donation to go to. We are thankful for the support Croghan shows to history and youth and look forward to working with them in the future.
In what year, did Edison open a new and larger laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey?
Last Month's Question & Answer:
In 1889, Edison had an Iron Concentration company. True!