“This used to be a room full of equipment – you can still see some of it up there in the ceiling – but now it’s a museum and all the electrical substation work is done on a computer in the back."
Every town talks about its “hidden gems,” but the Edison Museum in Beaumont really IS hidden.
If you plug the museum’s 350 Pine Street downtown address into your GPS or smartphone map app, you’ll arrive in the right place, but might be a little confused by the multi-story Edison Plaza office tower sitting there. Go ahead and park, then walk through the lobby (or drive around into the parking lot behind the tower) and you’ll find it…. a tiny little brick building from another era, still proudly wearing its formal name of “Travis Street Substation.”
The museum used to be a collection of historic Gulf States Utilities (now Entergy) items, but today it is a one-room ode to the wonders of electrical power plus the mind-boggling creativity and hard work of prolific American inventor Thomas Alva Edison.
It is the only museum west of the Mississippi entirely dedicated to showcasing his scientific and entrepreneurial work, and admission is free.
There are exhibit cases with old but familiar items – various sorts of incandescent light bulbs, the Edison automobile spark plug – and stranger things, like stories about how Edison’s “Botanic Research Corporation” worked to make commercially-viable rubber out of giant goldenrod plants.
The museum makes it clear that Edison was not only a prolific inventor, he was also a tireless entrepreneur; “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent.” Who knew that one of his ventures was a cement company?
I enjoyed the interactive Experiment Stations, especially the ones about Edison’s motion picture and phonograph inventions. Press the station buttons to see short clips of some of the very first movies (including the “Great Train Robbery” from 1903) or hear scratchy but clear early music recordings.
It is easy for us to forget how miraculous it was for people to see recorded movement right in front of them on a projection screen, to say nothing of the “talkies” that came later, with actual sound!
Today we casually flip a switch or twist a knob and light simply appears, so make sure you read the display about the effort it took in the 1880s to bring electricity for the first time to just a few blocks of homes and businesses in New York City. Don’t worry – not THAT many random people or animals were zapped in the process.
Beaumont’s Edison Museum is a small but mighty tribute to a genius, but also to hard work, perseverance, and imagination. It’s a family-friendly quick stop that is well worth your time.