Although Thomas Edison filled numerous notebooks with writings pertaining to his groundbreaking inventions, he kept a personal diary only once in his eighty-four years. Spanning a period of just nine days in July of 1885, the diary was written when Edison was already renowned and less than a year after the death of his wife, Mary, with whom he had three children. For the first time in decades Edison had downed tools, opting instead to stay at a beach cottage in Massachusetts owned by an old friend named Ezra “Damon” Gilliland, whose wife, “Mrs. G,” was attempting to find a new love interest for their famous friend. Edison wrote the following entry on the 20th, the oppressive heat sapping his energy as he tried to mingle with prospective companions. Mrs. G’s plan was a success. Seven months later, Thomas Edison married Mina Miller, one of the ladies he met that week. They remained together until Edison’s death in 1931.
The Diary Entry
Woodside July 20 1885
Arose before anybody else — came down and went out to look at Mamma Earth and her green clothes — Breakfasted — Read aloud from Madame Recamier’s memoirs for the ladies — Kept this up for an hour, got as hoarse as a fog horn. Think the ladies got jealous of Madame Recamier — It’s so hot — I put everything off — Hot weather is the mother of procrastination — my energy is at ebb tide — I’m getting Caloricly stupid — Tried to read some of the involved sentences in Miss Cleveland’s book, mind stumbled on a ponderous perioration and fell in between two paragraphs and lay unconscious for ten minutes — Smoked a cigar under the alias of Reina Victoria think it must have been seasoned in a sewer — Mrs Clark told me a story about Louise’s mother singing in a company a song called I have no home, I have no home, somebody halloed out that he would provide her with a good home if she would stop — I understood Mrs Clark to say that this gentleman was a bookkeeper in a smallpox hospital — Mrs G has placed fly paper all over the house. These cunning engines of insectiverous destruction are doing a big business — One of the first things I do when I reach heaven is to ascertain what flies are made for — this done I’ll be ready for business, perhaps I am too sanguine and may bring up at the other terminal and one of my punishments will be a general ukase from Satan to keep mum when Edison tries to get any entomological information — Satan is the scarecrow in the religious cornfield — Towards sundown went with the ladies on yacht — Talked about love, cupid, Apollo, Adonis, ideal persons. One of the ladies said she had never come across her ideal — I suggested she wait until the second Advent — Damon steered the galleon, Damon’s heart is so big it inclines him to embonpoint — On shore it was hot enough to test safes but on the water twas cool as a cucumber in an arctic cache — Mrs G has promised for three consecutive days to have some clams a la Taft, she has perspired her memory all away — Been hunting around for some ant nests, so I can have a good watch of them laying on the grass — Don’t seem to be any around — don’t think an ant could make a decent living in a land where a yankee has to emigrate from to survive — For the first time in my life I have bought a pair of premeditatedly tight shoes — These shoes are small and look nice. My No 2 mind (acquired mind) has succeeded in convincing my No 1 mind (primal mind or heart) that it is pure vanity, conceit and folly to suffer bodily pains that ones person may have graces the outcome of secret agony — Read the funny column in The Traveler and went to bed.
Thomas Edison’s original diary can be found amongst the Thomas A. Edison Papers, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers University; its forty-four handwritten pages can be seen on their website. In 1948 a transcript was reprinted in the book, The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison, edited by Dagobert D. Runes. In 1971, it appeared in a volume titled, The Diary of Thomas A. Edison, published by The Chatham Press, Inc. In the latter book, each of the diary’s handwritten pages have been reproduced.