Plant Talk | Science Talk

From the Library: Thomas Edison at The New York Botanical Garden

Thomas Alva Edison died on October 18, 1931–eighty years ago today.

In the late 1920s, Edison was deeply engaged in plant research. His goal was to discover a domestic source of rubber,  a plant that might produce better material than what was available at the time. (The plant turned out to be goldenrod.)

This effort was spearheaded by the Edison Botanical Corporation and funded by Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. Research was done by the corporation and by Edison himself at The New York Botanical Garden as well as at Edison’s labs in West Orange, N.J. and Fort Myers, Florida. The great inventor spent several years periodically working at the Garden and its Library, along with assistants John Kunkel Small, Barukh Jonas, William H. Meadowcroft, and others.

Thomas Alva Edison at NYBG

Edison was also a member of the Garden’s Board of Managers. Above center, he’s pictured with Marshall Howe (left) and Nathaniel Lord Britton, the Garden’s first director-in-chief, in July 1927.

Rubber research continued after Edison’s death. Ford moved the goldenrod project to his Savannah, Georgia plantation. During World War II, the U.S.D.A. continued the experiments until the development of synthetic rubber, when the project was ended.

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