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Thomas Edison as a teen photo found

Tom Jackson • Feb 11, 2014 at 10:49 AM

A retired securities analyst in Las Vegas says he’s just made a big addition to his collection of photographs of 19th century celebrities: a newly-discovered photo of a teenaged Thomas Edison.

Albert Kaplan, 82, admits he made a mistake when he ID’d another photo as being one of Lewis Carroll, the “Alice in Wonderland” author, but he says he’s sure his photo of a young man wearing a big bow tie is the famous Milan native.

Edison experts, however, think the identification of the young man as Edison may be a bit inventive.

Robert Wheeler, of Milan, president of the Edison Birthplace Association, thinks the nose looks wrong. Quite plainly, he doesn’t think the young man is Edison.

The Register contacted Wheeler, who had emailed a link to Kaplan’s website, kaplancollection.com, to various Edison experts throughout the country.

Wheeler said he got a response from six people.

“Not one of them thought it was Edison” Wheeler said. “Everybody said eyes or nose, or just various things”

Kaplan, who spent years as a securities analyst on Wall Street, walked into an art gallery in New York City in 1977 and found himself looking at a collection of about 100 daguerreotypes, vintage 19th century photos. He bought one and soon became hooked on hunting for photos of famous personalities.    

Kaplan says his Edison photo was purchased for a nominal sum from another collector in Wisconsin, who didn’t realize the possible identity of the young man in the photo.

“If I had told him it was Thomas Edison, he wouldn’t have sold it to me,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan said he has a good ability to identify people in old photographs. He said a comparison of his new photo with a known image of Edison reveals features in the nose, the eyebrows, the columns from his nose to his upper lip and the ears that all correspond.

Study the two images carefully, and “you’ll see point after point after point of identical features” Kaplan said.

Wheeler, however, said he and the folks he contacted aren’t as confident as Kaplan.

One expert Wheeler contacted was Paul Israel, director and general editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University.

Israel wrote: “We have two images of Edison to compare it to closer to that time period than those shown on the website.

“The train boy photo of 1861 when he was 14 and the telegrapher photo of 1863 when he was 16 (see http://edison.rutgers.edu/educationinventor.htm). If it is Edison it is likely from 1865 when he would have been 18”

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