Thomas Edison artifacts in need of repair – including 120 year old projection screen

The United States National Park Service has recently been approved for $20,000 in funding to clean and repair their collection of artifacts previously belonging to famous inventor Thomas Edison, which are now housed in the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey.

The artifacts include a worn lab coat which still has acid burns from Edison’s experiments, a faded American flag given to him on the 43rd anniversary of the Ediphone dictating machine and a large projection screen which is likely to be the oldest movie screen in the world, dating back to 1893.

Edison was important player in film projection history

Thomas A. Edison was one of the most significant American inventors of all time. He was the originator of many devices which changed life as we know it, including the motion picture camera, the phonograph and the light bulb. He was nicknamed the “Wizard of Menlo Park” and is known for being the fourth most prolific inventor of all time, holding a remarkable total of 1,093 US patents.
He was the first to describe the Kinetoscope, which was a very early motion picture device. This invention was the basic idea which led to the future movie projector.
Edison was inspired by the ideas of the photographic pioneer Eadweard Muybridge whose creation was the Zoopraxiscope. This is a device which projected a sequence of images drawn around the edge of a glass disc in order to create the illusion of motion. The original Kinetoscope that Edison created was somewhat of a “peepshow” device which only allowed one viewer at a time. However, later he created the Vitagraph projector which had its commercial premier in New York in 1896.
The enormous projection screen housed in the Thomas Edison National Historical Park has a great historic significance due to Edison’s involvement in the history of projection screens.

Textile Artifacts a Challenge to Restore

The projection screen and the other artifacts will not be easy to restore. The coat, the flag and the screen are all seriously damaged by the ravages of time. The screen has at least one tear in it and the stained bottom edge is weak and brittle. The flag has faded from being exposed to 90 years of sunlight and also shows evidence of water damage and insect activity. The lab coat has numerous holes and tears and the lining is beginning to become detached.
The coat and the flag can be taken away for repair and conservation work, but the projection screen will be the most difficult to restore as it cannot be moved. It is an enormous screen, stretching 18 by 18 feet and hanging from a wooden roller on the underside of the library’s second floor balcony.
Restorers won’t know how damaged the screen really is until they are able to roll it out completely, which is done painstakingly with a large wooden handle.
The National Park Service hopes to repair all three artifacts from Edison’s history so that they can go back on display in the museum and remain in good conditions for many more years in the future.

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