Thomas A. Edison Comes to Statuary Hall

Ohio’s Thomas Alva Edison will take his well-deserved place in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol in Washington September 21, joining luminaries from the other states in the building’s rotunda, also known as the “Old Hall.” A rare bipartisan group from Congress announced the honor for arguably the greatest inventor in world history.

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The life-size bronze statue, created by Zanesville, Ohio, artist Alan Cottrill, holds aloft in his right hand an incandescent light bulb. That single invention transformed the world, but was only one of many of Edison’s transformative inventions, including sound recording and motion pictures. He also invented the electric utility.

The four major leaders of Congress – House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) – jointly announced the September dedication ceremony. President Obama and Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich have been invited, but have not yet said if they will attend.

The Ohio General Assembly in 2010 decided it was time to replace the statue of former Ohio Gov. William Allen, a 19th Century Democrat and “Copperhead” who was in favor of slavery and opposed President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Each state is entitled to have two statues in the hall in the Capitol Rotunda honoring individuals from the state. Ohio donated Allen’s statue in 1887.

The Ohio Historical Society held a poll across the Buckeye State on who should replace Allen in the hall, with, according to the Columbus Dispatch, 48,000 participants. Edison won over the Wright Brothers, Dayton’s inventors of manned flight, and Ohio State and Olympic sprinting standout Jesse Owens.

The state allocated no money for the statue, so a private group took up the fundraising cause. Sculptor Cottrill donated his work, and, after six years, the Thomas A. Edison Birthplace Museum in Milan, Ohio, was able to take Edison’s statue to Washington.

In Fannie Flag’s charming 2006 novel “Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven,” the character of Elner Shimfissle described her admiration for Edison and why she had a picture of him cut from a magazine on her kitchen wall. “Why,” she said, “he lit the entire world. Just think, without old Tom Edison, we would all be sitting in the dark, no lights, no radio, no electric garage door openers. I think, after the Lord of course, I’d rank the Wizard of Menlo Park number two, that’s how highly I think about old Tom.”