The industrial research laboratory was arguably Thomas Alva Edison's greatest invention. With more ideas than time to pursue them, Edison built a laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, and staffed it with the brightest young men he could find. They were, for the most part, self‐taught like himself: He had little patience with universities, having once defined an academic scientist as “a man who would boil his watch while holding onto an egg.” But if he was nothing else, Edison was an experimenter. From time to time he hired an academic scientist. The results were mixed. He said of one:
He knows a lot but he doesn't stick to the job. I set him at work developing details of a plan. But when he happens to note some phenomenon new to him, though easily seen to be of no importance in this apparatus, he gets sidetracked, follows it up and loses time. We can't be spending time that way! We have got to keep working up things of commercial value—that is what this laboratory is for. We can't be like the old German professor who as long as he can get his black bread and beer is content to spend his whole life studying the fuzz on a bee!