Monroe scout documents the phonograph at Thomas Edison Center

PHOTOS COURTESY OF SANJAY SAIKIA
Shankar Saikia of Monroe created an exhibit on Thomas Edison's phonograph at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park in Edison.

Researching the history of Thomas Edison’s phonograph sounded like a great idea to a Monroe Eagle Scout candidate.

Shankar Saikia, a sophomore at Monroe Township High School, chose to research, design and build a permanent exhibit highlighting one of Thomas Edison’s most significant inventions on the grounds of the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park in Edison, which is a U.S. historical site.

The Menlo Park laboratory of Thomas Edison is where sound was recorded and played back for the very first time.

Since a very young age, Shankar had visited the Thomas Edison Center with his family. As a high school student, he has taken keen interest in Edison’s inventions and research and felt while the site was well known for Edison’s invention of the lightbulb, the phonograph was not highlighted as much, according to information provided by his father, Sanjay Saikia.

Shankar felt recorded sound has had a wide-ranging impact on people’s lives in the past several decades and felt the desire to highlight the birthplace of Edison’s phonograph through his project.

As a Life Scout working toward his Eagle Scout rank, he decided to approach the Thomas Edison Center with ideas of his project.

Shankar worked closely with Kathleen Carlucci, director of the center, to review his proposed project plan and obtain the necessary approvals and permits. He then spent several weeks researching the history of the phonograph in collaboration with the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University and archives provided by the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park.

“I had to go back and forth many times with the project stakeholders reviewing the research content I prepared as the information had to be historically accurate. It was an amazing learning experience and I am deeply grateful to Mrs. Carlucci from the TAEC and Dr. Israel from Rutgers University for their time and guidance,” Shankar said.

The information kiosk is a permanent structure with four metal plaques in the front displaying information and diagrams of the phonograph. The back of the kiosk displays a 2-D metal cutout as a replica of the first tinfoil phonograph built by Edison.

Shankar used skills from his Engineering Drawing class at school to conceive, design and print this exhibit.

“He was meticulous in his construction of the kiosk he created, and went above and beyond,” Carlucci said in a prepared letter.

Shankar worked with several local businesses – Lowe’s of East Brunswick, Home Depot of Milltown, Barton Nursery of Edison, GSS Engineering in Hillsborough, Benjamin Moore in East Brunswick and Picture-It-Awards in Edison – to secure material donations for the project.

He was also supported by several of his fellow Boy Scouts and adult volunteers from Troop 3 in Monroe on the day of his project.

“Shankar put in over 200 hours of work to research the history of the phonograph, finalizing the content on the four metal plaques and the actual construction of the exhibit. I am so proud of what he has achieved,” Michael C. Sabanos, his Eagle project coach and scoutmaster of Troop 3, said in a prepared statement.

On opening day of his project some prominent attendees were Thomas Lankey, mayor of Edison; Len Sendelsky, chairman of the EMTC Board; Charles Tomaro, Middlesex County freeholder; Paul Israel, vice chair of EMTC and director of Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University; Carlucci; and a large number of members of the public, Sanjay said.

The Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park regularly conducts educational tours for school groups and the public, and invites visitors to the museum.

For more information, visit www.menloparkmuseum.org.

Shankar Saikia of Monroe created an exhibit on Thomas Edison's phonograph at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park in Edison. He is pictured with Director Kathleen Carlucci.
Shankar Saikia of Monroe created an exhibit on Thomas Edison's phonograph at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park in Edison.
Shankar Saikia of Monroe created an exhibit on Thomas Edison's phonograph at the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park in Edison.
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