History of Edison, New Jersey

Edison, New Jersey has a long and storied history dating back to the 17th century. Located in Middlesex County, New Jersey along the Raritan River, Edison has transformed from a rural farming community to a thriving hub for commerce and industry. Below is an in-depth exploration of Edison throughout the centuries.

Founding of Piscatawaytown – 1693

Edison’s history traces back to a village founded in 1693 called Piscatawaytown. Located along the banks of the Raritan River within Piscataway Township, Piscatawaytown was originally inhabited by the Lenni Lenape Native Americans.

In 1666, the first European settlers acquired land from the Lenni Lenape to establish Piscatawaytown. However, conflicts arose between settlers and Native Americans, leading to many Lenni Lenape relocating. Piscatawaytown became an agricultural community and was officially renamed in 1798 to honor scientist Thomas Edison, who perfected the commercially practical electric lightbulb centuries later.

Key Events in the 1800s

The 19th century marked Edison’s early development from a sleepy farming village into a bustling industrial center.

Transportation Advances Connect Edison

As transportation advanced in the early-mid 1800s, several key projects improved connectivity to the broader region:

  • 1804 – Ferry service across the Raritan River established
  • 1836 – Somerville and New Brunswick Turnpike (Route 27) constructed
  • 1839 – Railroad connection completed as part of the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company

Growth of Industry

With improved transportation, industry began booming in Edison during the mid-late 1800s:

  • 1870s – Brickmaking industry expands in Edison area clay pits
  • 1872 – Edison Land and Improvement Co. established
  • 1876 – New telegraph line installed
  • 1889 – Electric lighting introduced

Early 20th Century Emergence of Manufacturing

Continuing growth occurred in the early 20th century as Edison evolved into a manufacturing hub:

Major Corporate Expansions

Several major corporations moved to or expanded in Edison in the 1900-1930s:

  • 1915 – National Storage Battery Company (Exide) battery manufacturing plant opens
  • 1918 – RCA research facility constructed
  • 1927 – Ford Motor Company assembly plant established
  • 1930 – Gypsum plant built along Raritan River

Population Boom

With new business and industry, Edison’s population swelled in the early 20th century:

  • 1900 – Population reaches 1,970
  • 1920 – Population doubles to 3,133
  • 1930 – Population doubles again to over 7,000

Mid-Late 20th Century Commercialization

A wave of commercial development and corporate office parks emerged in the mid-late 20th century as Edison became a major employment hub.

Key Business Expansions

Major companies that expanded or relocated to Edison from the 1950s-1990s included:


  • Monsanto chemical company
  • McGraw Edison power tool and appliance factories
  • Revlon research laboratories


  • Oak Industries electronics production facilities
  • Glenbrook Nickel-Metal Hydride battery plant
  • IBM and Lucent Technologies research centers


  • Tesla coil production moved to Edison
  • Nucleotide production facilities established

Evolution of Retail and Dining

As more businesses moved in, so did retail, dining, and entertainment venues including:

  • Menlo Park Mall (1959)
  • Middlesex County College (1964)
  • Raritan Center commercial hub (mid 1980s-present)
  • Numerous strip malls, chain restaurants, and big box stores

By 2000, Edison had firmly established itself as a diverse hub for corporate and industrial activity.

Edison in Recent Decades

While industry remains vital, Edison has evolved with economic and demographic shifts in recent decades.

Decline of Manufacturing

Due to outsourcing and automation, many factories have closed, though manufacturing persists on a smaller scale.

Growth of Services, Tech, Healthcare

New sectors have expanded as commerce diversified, including:

  • Information services
  • Professional/financial services
  • Biotech and life sciences
  • Healthcare

Demographic Shifts

Edison has become significantly more ethnically diverse:

  • In 1970, Edison was over 95% white
  • As of 2010 US Census:
    • Over 50% Asian descent (predominantly Indian and Chinese)
    • Roughly 25% white
    • 10% Hispanic
    • Smaller African American population

This diversity is reflected in the range of cuisine and culture.

Historic Sites in Edison

Edison contains several buildings and sites evoking its long history:


  • Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park – Museum and monument dedicated to inventor Thomas Edison, who resided in nearby Menlo Park toward the end of the 19th century during his most prolific inventing years. Features exhaustive exhibits on Edison’s innovations.
  • Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower – 131 ft tall Art Deco monument tower dedicated in 1938 to honor Edison. Located in nearby Menlo Park. Illuminated at night.

Historic Homes

  • Edison House – Home purchased by Thomas Edison in 1886 and gifted to his bride Mina Miller Edison as a wedding present. The couple resided there periodically until Edison’s death in 1931. The home still contains many original Edison family furnishings and artifacts.
  • Glenmont – Lavish 29-room mansion Edison built next door to Edison House in 1886 to accommodate his expanding family and hosting prominent guests. Later used by Union Carbide Corporation as executive quarters. Eventually acquired by National Parks Service and restored/opened for public tours showcasing the estate’s opulence.

Other Landmarks

Beyond the Edison estates, other structures dating back to Edison’s early days include:

  • St. James Episcopal Church – Founded circa 1708, rebuilt in 1763 after original church burnt down. Current structure from 1856. Oldest church in Edison.
  • Oak Tree Elementary School – Opened in 1888, original one room schoolhouse was the first schoolhouse in Piscatawaytown/Edison. Modern building now on site.
  • Piscatawaytown Burial Ground – Colonial era cemetery established in 1703, containing graves of some of town’s earliest settlers. Quiet, scenic spot along the river.

So if you ever find yourself in Edison, be sure to visit these sites for an enriched glimpse into Edison’s past as a colonial farming hub evolved into an inventor’s experimental homestead before becoming a thriving suburban industrial center.

Notable Historical Residents

Beyond Thomas Edison himself, Edison has been home to many influential figures:

Thomas Edison (1847-1931)

Famed American inventor, businessman, and creator of the Menlo Park laboratory and facilities just north of Edison. Credited for numerous revolutionary inventions spanning electric power systems, mass communication, sound recording, and motion pictures. Lived in Edison for over 40 years.

Mina Miller Edison (1865-1947)

Philanthropist and wife of Thomas Edison who managed Edison’s estate later in his life while he was ill. Instrumental in preserving and memorializing Edison’s Menlo Park grounds as a testament to his legacy as one of America’s most prolific inventors.

Charles Edison (1890-1969)

Son of Thomas and Mina Edison. Born in Edison and later served as Governor of New Jersey for two terms between 1941-1957, overseeing the state during WWII and the postwar era. Remained in Edison his entire life.

Junot Díaz (1968-Present)

Award winning, best-selling novelist and short story writer. Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic but immigrated to central New Jersey as a child, growing up in Edison. Many of his short stories featuring immigrant families are set in heavily Dominican and Colombian neighborhoods around Edison in the 1970s-1990s.

These individuals represent some of Edison’s most significant historical residents, having shaped the town itself or risen from its neighborhoods to greater renown.


Edison has endured a dramatic evolution since its days as a quiet colonial farming village into today’s diverse suburban landscape of homes, offices, factories, and innovation. From Native American communities to European settlement to Edison’s famed Menlo Park laboratory to influxes of industry to its emergence as a major commerce and tech corridor, Edison provides a microcosm for many major trends shaping New Jersey over the past 300+ years.

Next time you’re driving along the I-287 corridor and pass a sign for Edison, think about the rich history contained within its borders. There is far more than meets the eye!

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  • From North Edison: Navigate south on Main Street and make a right onto Oak Tree Road. Continue for approximately 2 miles until you reach 2080 Oak Tree Rd on your left. Our Fencing Edison NJ office is conveniently located for your visit.
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  • From New Brunswick: Take US-1 S towards Edison and merge onto NJ-18 S. Continue for about 3 miles, then take the exit toward County Road 501 S/Oak Tree Road. Turn left onto Oak Tree Road, and after approximately 2 miles, you’ll spot 2080 Oak Tree Rd on your left, where Fencing Edison NJ awaits.