Wednesday, March 20, 2024

NRR Project: “Light’s Golden Jubilee Celebration”


“Light’s Golden Jubilee Celebration”

NBC Radio

Oct. 21, 1929

In 1879, Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb in Menlo Park, New Jersey, changing human history and cementing his legendary status as the ingenious American inventor par excellence.

Fifty years later, the General Electric Company and Westinghouse, always on the look-out for good publicity, decided to observe the anniversary of the discovery by honoring the still-living Edison to an extraordinary degree. The lengthy broadcast from NBC that captured the events of the celebration was preserved, and documents the immense, worshipful attention paid to the event and the character at its center.

The 82-year-old was feted in an elaborate production hosted by his long-time admirer and friend, fellow inventor Henry Ford. Ford eventually wrested control of the event from General Electric, and soon whipped up a spectacle at his newly established Edison Institute of Technology (later to be the Henry Ford Museum) in Dearborn, Michigan, Ford’s headquarters. Ford hired Edward L. Bernays, the so-called father of public relations, to orchestrate a commemorative campaign that would extend throughout the year of 1929 and climax at the ceremony.

The evening began with a celebratory banquet, attended by 500 prominent guests, among them President Herbert Hoover, Walter Chrysler, Marie Curie, Will Rogers, and Orville Wright. Afterwards came the painstaking recreation of the moment of Edison’s invention.

Listeners across the country were urged to turn out all their lights and leave them off until the reenactment was complete. Edison was transported to a reconstruction of his Menlo Park lab, along with Ford, Hoover, and his long-time assistant Francis Jehl (the only other surviving participant in the lightbulb’s invention), where he then connected the wires that caused the electric bulb to light up, live on air, “a moment broadcast over the airwaves on as many as 140 stations.” (Extensive movie footage of the events has survived as well.)

The attention then shifted to adulatory speeches. Speakers included a live message over the wireless from Germany – Albert Einstein chiming in with praise. A national event of this kind had never been broadcast before, and it presaged the ability of the media to unite and influence vast numbers of people.

The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Next up: Rachmaninoff plays his Piano Concerto #2.



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