The Wild Tale Of Thomas Edison’s Wyoming Eclipse Trip
Already a famous inventor at age 31, Thomas Edison visited Wyoming Territory in 1878 to see a spectacular site—It was a once in a lifetime solar eclipse similar to the one in 2017 that visited the Cowboy State.
A friend asked Edison to join him on an expedition to view the total eclipse of the sun in Wyoming. Edison arrived by train with astronomer Harry Draper’s party in Rawlins on July 18, 1878. He was lucky to share a room with his group in the town's one packed hotel.
The party had 10 days to prepare for the eclipse. Edison wanted to use the opportunity to make advances in photography. Unfortunately, his experiment with his infrared detecting device he called the “tasimeter” failed because of temperature differences during the event.
Most eclipse watchers left the day after the event to go back east, but Edison and his friend Professor George Barker continued to the west coast for two weeks before returning to Wyoming. They wanted a week of Wyoming hunting and fishing on Muddy Creek.
This part of Edison’s stay, however, is called into question in some accounts. A man who claimed to have been on that trip said Barker asked Edison how he slept and got this response: “I wasn’t thinking about resting. I lay and looked up at the beautiful stars and clear sky light, and I invented an incandescent electric light.”
That was told more than 40 years after it was supposedly overheard. An old tale claims Edison got the idea for the light bulb at Battle Lake. This embellishment came after a bamboo fishing pole fell into a campfire and the end began to glow.
Actual history documents that during that same summer arc lighting had been on display at a Paris Exposition and Edison already knew about it. It was another year before he came up with a solution for incandescence.
Truth or tale, the Laramie newspaper reported that during Edison's adventure the party killed many elk; deer and antelope; and "bagging some 3,000 trout.”
The New York Herald described various experiments – most about the “nature of the sun’s corona.” Apparently, Edison did get to measure its heat before a Wyoming windstorm almost blew down his temporary observatory.
A windstorm in Wyoming? We've never heard of such a thing. HA!