The garden state becomes an industrial power: New Jersey in the late nineteenth century

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In 1870 a telegraph inventor named Th omas Edison opened his first manufacturing shop in Newark, New Jersey. Edison settled in the state's largest and most industrialized city because of its wealth of skilled machinists, many of whom had come to Newark as part of a large influx of German immigrants to the state in the post - Civil War era. Newark was also close to New York City, where the telegraph companies that financed Edison's inventive work were located. Within a decade Edison would become the most famous resident of the state. After finding his first success in Newark, Edison left the city in 1876 for Menlo Park, a failed suburban development in Middlesex County. Among the reasons Edison left Newark was the city's overcrowded and polluted environment, which gave it one of the highest mortality rates in the nation. Among those who fell to the many diseases that plagued Newark's citizens was Edison's first Newark partner, William Unger, who died of consumption in 1879, the same year his brother Frederick Unger was carried offby typhoid. In Menlo Park Edison built the nation's first industrial research-anddevelopment (R&D) laboratory, which helped to transform the way invention took place. Menlo Park provided a model of research for the new electrical and chemical companies that increasingly found a home in the state between the 1870s and World War I during what historians commonly call the "second industrial revolution." The most visible feature of the new electrical system that Edison invented in his laboratory was the incandescent lamp, which he first manufactured in a factory at Menlo Park so that the laboratory could continue to improve the new technology needed to produce it. Within two years, however, he moved the factory into larger quarters in East Newark (now Harrison) so as to have access to the city's larger labor force in order to reduce his costs. Edison built his first central power station in New York City, and he moved to Manhattan for several years in the early 1880s. But like many others who located in the region because of New York, he tired of city living and moved his family back to suburban New Jersey. Edison found a home in Llewellyn Park, the nation's first planned suburban community, and he built a new laboratory just down the road in present-day West Orange. While building this large new laboratory, Edison described his ambition: "to build up a great Industrial Works in the Orange Valley" that would produce the inventions developed by the laboratory. By World War I, firms in a variety of other industries followed Edison's lead and established R&D laboratories as part of growing industrial complexes. By 1900 these companies could draw on the state's growing population of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, especially Italy, to lower the labor costs of their large factories. They also took advantage of New Jersey's liberal incorporation laws, which became the primary source of funding for state government. Most of Edison's inventions served the growing cities of the United States. These included telecommunications (telegraphs and telephones), electric light and power, batteries for electric automobiles, cement for roads and commercial buildings, and copying technology and dictating machines for urban offices. Edison also was a leader in developing new forms of leisure entertainment - sound recording and motion pictures - That became popular among the growing urban populations that worked in large corporate offices and factories. Male middle-managers and female secretaries with higher incomes and greater leisure time than harried small-business owners or fatigued factory workers were among the first users of these new technologies, but even factory workers were beginning to experience a growth in real wages and a drop in working hours, which enabled them to take part in leisure activities. Edison's exceptional career helped to influence the development of the state, and it also mirrored many of the changes that occurred in New Jersey and affected the lives of its residents. The sections that follow will explore in more detail how New Jersey changed in the thirty years after Edison moved there. The focus will be on three key forces of change: industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. But we will also see how New Jersey remained the Garden State by virtue of its agricultural and suburban communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNew Jersey
Subtitle of host publicationA History of the Garden State
PublisherRutgers University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9780813554105
ISBN (Print)9780813554099
StatePublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


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