Thomas Edison, the so-called “magician of Menlo Park ”is famous for inventing many things, including improvements to the lightbulb, phonograph, and movie projector. But he’s not that known for concrete, even though he’s obsessed with the stuff.
In 1908 the famous American inventor applied for a patent for the construction of buildings with a single concreting. Ultimately a massive failure, the idea was still way ahead of its time, and some of his concrete houses are still standing today.
Edison founded the Portland Cement Company in 1899. The company always had problems despite various improvements in the cement industry. It also supplied the concrete for the construction of Yankee Stadium in 1922, but went bankrupt a few years later.
It was during this time that Edison came up with the idea of building houses from in-situ concrete. The invention was patented in 1917 with the following introduction: “The object of my invention is to construct a building from a cement mixture by a single molding operation, with all parts including the sides, roofs, partitions, bathtubs, floors, etc., the consist of an integral mass of cement mix. “
In theory, this would result in a whole new type of home with several advantages: fireproof, insect proof, easy to clean, and at a very affordable price of $ 1,200 per home. Edison saw this as a possible solution for cities with housing shortages, one that would allow people to move from slums to cheap new residential areas with houses made of cast concrete. To support this, he donated the patented information to qualified builders completely free of charge.
Edison had already experimented with reusable formwork forms in 1910 and built a garage and a small house in his mansion in New Jersey. The reality of doing this on a larger scale, however, was far more complicated. Each house would need a mold made up of roughly 2,300 pieces, and a builder would need to purchase at least $ 175,000 in equipment before casting a single house. And despite Edison’s attempts to describe the homes as elegant and sophisticated, many people still viewed them as an affordable move for slum dwellers rather than a desirable lifestyle choice.
Despite the general lack of interest, the company built a few concrete houses in the New Jersey area, some of which are still standing. And Edison didn’t let his concrete obsession go away. Before the company went bankrupt, he turned to the facility. These should be made from a new lightweight concrete and include everything from concrete phonograph cabinets to concrete pianos and concrete bedroom sets (and concrete tombstones for all of your life needs).
Again, however, it wasn’t quite what people were looking for. The Edison Portland Cement Company lost millions of dollars, and Edison’s concrete efforts never quite hung. Even so, he was certainly ahead of his time, predicting the latest innovations in affordable 3D printed homes at least 100 years ago.