Thomas Edison, ca. 1937
Edgar Yaeger (American, 1904 – 1997)
Oil on canvas
MSU Union, main floor

This WPA mural, originally part of a triptych located in the Public Lighting Commission Building in downtown Detroit, was removed when the building was destroyed in the 1960s to be replaced by the Renaissance Center. The complete mural was discovered behind wood paneling, and only two of the sections, including this one, were in good enough condition to be salvaged. For this composition Yaeger chose scenes relating to the history of light: the discovery of fire, Benjamin Franklin’s discovery of electricity, and Thomas Edison and the invention of the incandescent light bulb. This final section, which was donated by the artist to the Kresge Art Museum and is on long-term loan to the MSU Union, depicts Thomas Edison, on the right, working in his laboratory with his assistants inventing the light bulb. The large female figure with streaming hair symbolizes light and optimism. Preparatory drawings owned by the Kresge Art Museum indicate that portions of the right side of this mural are missing. Nevertheless, this mural is an excellent example of the modernist style that Yaeger employed for his WPA commissions.

Although the original structure of the MSU Union, built in 1924 by Pond and Pond, was not government sponsored, in 1936 $150,000 was secured in WPA funds to add the east wing. The Michigan architectural firm Bowd-Munson completed this addition.

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