History of Thomas Edison and work: Timecards from the Insomnia Squad period.

Punched Timecards of the Insanely Workaholic Thomas A. Edison

Punched Timecards of the Insanely Workaholic Thomas A. Edison

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
April 3 2015 12:55 PM

Punched Timecards of the Insanely Workaholic Thomas A. Edison

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The famously productive Thomas A. Edison was 65 in the late summer and fall of 1912, when he punched these timecards in his West Orange, New Jerse,y laboratory. The cards are viewable in the online collections of The Henry Ford. 

“As a spouse, [Edison] was demanding in many and varied ways,” Edison biographer Neil Baldwin writes. “Most familiar, despite his unfulfilled promises to mend his ways, were [his] chronically unchanging work habits.” During these years, his second wife Mina, who he had married in 1886 and who professed complete support of her husband’s approach to work, would send a coachman to sit in front of the plant in the evening, in case Edison wished to come home. If the inventor didn’t appear, Baldwin writes,

Mrs. Edison would arrive at some ungodly hour of the night, sometimes toward three in the morning, to stand silently by the laboratory table with Thomas’ jacket and overcoat over her arm, hoping her husband would tear himself away and come out to the car.
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In mid-September 1912, around the time the third and fourth of these time cards were punched, Edison and a six- or seven-person team began working hard to perfect techniques used in the mass-production of phonograph records. “The group,” write the editors of Rutgers’ Edison Papers Project, “worked night and day for five weeks and became known as the Insomnia Squad.” This team, the exploits of which became famous in the press of the time, was the subject of a famous photo taken in October 1912: six men, plus Edison, eating a late-night supper of hamburger steaks, apple pie, and coffee in the laboratory. 

The Squad switched to war work later in the decade, laboring to produce a working submarine detection technology. 

1EdisonTimeCard

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

4EdisonTimeCard

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

2EdisonTimeCard

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

3EdisonTimeCard

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.