New Jersey: The Innovation State

Innovation and invention have been part of New Jersey's history for decades, and nearly all these unique breakthroughs are on display at historic sites around the state.
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From the inventions of Edison and the theories of Einstein to the breakthroughs that beckon at the dawn of the 21st century, New Jersey and innovation are synonymous with leadership and excellence.

Remarkably, most - if not all - of this unique history is available through the Garden State's collection of historic sites, museums and science-based attractions. Of course, no individual exemplifies this legacy better than New Jersey's own Thomas Alva Edison. Known the world over as one of history's most prolific inventors, Edison has some 1,093 U.S. patents to his name, as well as others throughout the world. In addition to some of his most well-known successes - such as the phonograph and the light bulb - Edison helped pioneer the process of mass production and the advent of the industrial research facility.

Affectionately nicknamed "The Wizard of Menlo Park," Edison's marvelous life and career can be examined by visiting the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange and the Thomas A. Edison Memorial Museum in the town bearing his name - Edison. Operated by the National Park Service, the Thomas Edison National Historical Park was built in 1887 and is where Edison improved and perfected such inventions as the phonograph and storage battery before his death in 1931. It's also the site where the great inventor performed all his work on the formative years of the motion picture.

Edison's early career can be more deeply examined at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park. His greatest early achievements took place here, as noted by the 400 patents Edison received in his years in the laboratory. His patents include those for the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph and the electric railroad car. Edison also conducted research and development on such things as wireless transmissions, the carbon button transmitter and what came to be called the "Edison Effect" - a basis in the field of electronic study. Visit the museum on one of the three days of the week it's open or make a reservation to see it another day.

New Jersey's legacy of innovation extends far beyond Edison, though. Liberty Science Center in Jersey City features exhibitions like Skyscraper! The attraction is even larger than museums devoted solely to the subject. These marvels of modern civilization are documented in wondrous detail: Soaring Structures features large-scale images and details on some of the world's most iconic and well-known skyscrapers and Wind Tunnel examines how these great structures behave at different wind speeds, while Walk the Steel offers visitors the opportunity to step out on an 18-foot narrow steel beam just like real-life iron workers.

Liberty Science Center's other exhibitions offer equally exhilarating experiences. Infection Connection examines how illnesses spread from person to person and throughout the world and how today's epidemiologists are combating infection today; Communication explores the evolution of messages on cave walls through e-mail and the Internet; Breakthroughs offers insight into how technology remains an integral part of our everyday existence; and Eat and Be Eaten examines the strategies of predator and prey. These are just a few of the sights and sounds waiting to be discovered at Liberty Science Center - an adventure that will leave everyone in your family enriched and eager to plan another visit.

A wonderful family learning experience isn't confined to the northern reaches of the Garden State, however. Info Age Science/History Learning Center and Museum in Wall offers hours of fun and educational opportunities. Also known as Camp Evans, home of InfoAge, it's the site of the Marconi Hotel, which houses the World War II Living Memorial. There, guests can tour 10 rooms filled with computer, radar, radio and shipwreck exhibits from that fateful era.

Camp Evans is also the proud home of the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Established in 1977, the hall of fame offers visitors a glimpse into the formative years of radio. Visitors can listen to some of the most popular and cherished old-time programs in their entirety - all while viewing vintage radios, microphones, earphones, photographs and memorabilia from some of the legendary trailblazers that helped define the genre. Camp Evans is open Sundays, 1 pm-4 pm or by appointment.

Whether you are an avid follower of New Jersey's unique role in the world's technology revolutions or merely curious about the state's rich innovative history, there's no shortage of highlights to satisfy your every desire. If you go: Thomas Edison National Historical Park, Main St. and Lakeside Ave., West Orange, 973-736-0550, www.nps.gov/edis; Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park, 37 Christie St. (off Rt. 27), Edison, 732-549-3299; Liberty Science Center, Liberty State Park, 222 Jersey City Blvd., Jersey City, 201-200-1000; Camp Evans, InfoAge Science/History Learning Center, 2201 Marconi Rd., Wall, 732-280-3000, www.infoage.org.