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April 2, 2021

Housed in the Henry Ford Museum, Here’s the Test Tube Said to Hold Thomas Edison’s Last Breath

Henry Ford considered Thomas Edison his personal hero and friend. Did his admiration for Edison provoke the admittedly idiosyncratic Ford to request the capture of Edison’s last exhalation when the great inventor died at 3:24 a.m. on October 18, 1931?

Henry Ford believed that the human soul exited the body with its last breath. Ford somehow convinced Thomas Edison’s son to sit by the dying inventor’s bedside, clap a test tube over his mouth, then plug it with a cork. Maybe Ford’s intentions were noble, and he expected future scientists to reconstitute Edison from the aether.

The glass test tube from Edison’s bedroom is on display in Henry Ford Museum. (Photo: the Henry Ford Museum)

The first evidence of the test tube appears in a May 1951 inventory of hundreds of personal and historical items transferred to Henry Ford Museum from Henry Ford’s Fair Lane residence after his wife Clara’s death in September 1950. Among the items was a “glass case containing Mr. Thomas Edison’s hat, shoes, and sealed test tube containing (?).

No more was heard about the test tube until 1978, when it was discovered in its cardboard mailing tube along with the hat and shoes under one of the display cases in an exhibit entitled, “Henry Ford—A Personal History,” that had been installed in Henry Ford Museum in 1953. Some, but not all, of the museum staff involved remember a note tied to the cardboard tube stating, “This is the test tube you requested from my father’s bedroom.”

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, 1927.

A woman visitor told the Wall Street Journal in 2003 after seeing the test tube on display, “It connects me to Edison’s life. It makes me realize that he was a living person who breathed.”


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