Birthplace Anniversaries in 2022
On a winter day in 1847, February 11, the wife of a successful builder bore her seventh and last child in the prospering small town of Milan, Ohio. Nancy Elliott Edison and her husband, Samuel Ogden Edison Jr., lived in a Greek Revival house Samuel had constructed on the north side of the village, overlooking the bustling new shipping harbor on the Huron River, behind the house.
The child was Thomas Alva Edison, whose life achievements changed and improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe. This year, February 11, 2022, is the 175th anniversary of his birth. It is also the 75th anniversary of the creation of the Thomas Edison Birthplace Museum, centered in the preserved birthplace house and devoted to sharing the history of Edison, particularly to educate and encourage youth by Thomas Edison’s achievements.
In 1854 the Edison family moved to Port Huron, Michigan. But young Thomas spent his first seven years in Milan at a remarkable time. In the 1830s and 40s the fertile soils of the Midwest began to be settled, starting in Ohio. Milan was a favored locality. Situated on the Huron River, about seven miles from western Lake Erie, it had become in the 1830s and 40s a major grain shipping center. Wind powered schooners could use the Milan Canal, along the Huron River, to be towed upstream to Milan, where they were loaded with cargoes of grain and other agricultural produce, then transported back across Lake Erie to the Erie Canal, then to New York and ports on the East Coast. In the 1840s, small but prosperous Milan was one of the largest grain-shipping ports in the world.
Young Thomas Alva Edison got to watch and learn from all of this activity. The grains were grown on the extremely fertile soils of the region, the eastern edge of what would be known as the Corn Belt. From distances of many tens of miles, multitudes of grain wagons were driven to Milan where the produce was exchanged for cash and hard goods from the East. In young Al's backyard, along the Huron River, several dozen giant grain warehouses used innovative grain-loading machinery. As a young boy, Thomas marveled and learned about this machinery, his first introduction to state-of-the-art new mechanics. It prompted his inquisitiveness, which germinated his own inventive contributions.
Young Thomas was a “poor student.” He had no formal classroom education. But his mother, who had been a successful schoolteacher, began young Thomas’s education in the birthplace. She recognized his particular interests and abilities and was able to direct and encourage them. For the rest of his life Thomas Alva Edison was an inquisitive reader and student of great books, particularly those related to science and technology.
Edison never forgot his birthplace. In 1906 he took ownership of the birthplace. On his last visit, in 1923, he was astonished to find his birthplace was still lighted by lamps and candles!
After his death in 1931, his wife, Mina Miller Edison and his daughter Mrs. John Eyre Sloane (Madeleine) worked to open the birthplace as The Edison Birthplace Museum, to both commemorate the great man and to inspire youth to strive to accomplish educational and technological achievements.
Seventy-five years ago, on February 11, 1947, the Edison Birthplace Museum opened. During this time countless numbers of families, school children, and international travelers have visited the Birthplace and have been inspired to learn of this great man’s accomplishments — all of which began with a loving and doting mother in this modest brick house in the village of Milan. As were Mina and Madeleine, the present trustees are committed to carrying on the Birthplace as part of Milan's history while preserving the natural beauty of the site as the two founders of the Association envisioned it.