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Unveiling Edison: One Man’s Journey to Bring His Hero to Capitol Hill

A major piece of Ohio history has been unveiled in the state’s capital. People can now catch a statue of Thomas Edison before it moves to Washington, D.C. The statue is largely the result of one man’s tireless endeavor.

  That’s the clicking and crackling of an 1893 Kinetoscope—a motion picture machine that’s currently projecting the scene of a playful pillow fight filmed in the early 1900’s..

The Kinetoscope is just one of Don Gfell’s many prized possessions. But there’s a singular theme to his antique collection; they’re all inventions created by Thomas Edison..

“Thomas Edison has been my hero and hobby my whole life,” Gfell said..

Gfell’s passion for all things Edison—like this phonograph from 1911 --started early. He’s from Edison’s hometown of Milan, Ohio; as a boy Gfell visited the innovator’s birthplace and he’s been hooked ever since..

Gfell is showing off his collection at a very special event—the result of a long, and ultimately rewarding journey..

It all started with a statue of Ohio’s Civil War-Era Gov. William Allen, which was representing Ohio in the U.S. Capitol Building’s Statuary Hall. But Allen was pro-slavery and an outspoken critic of President Abraham Lincoln..

So a few years ago the state decided it was time for a change. That’s when Gfell comes in. He started campaigning for Edison as a suitable replacement in Statuary Hall..

“Number one, he loved to work and all his work was for the betterment of mankind,” said Gfell..

A state panel held a public vote with choices such as the Wright brothers and Jesse Owens as other options along with Edison. In the end, after about 50,000 people cast their ballots, Thomas Edison came out on top..

That brings us back to the Statehouse where the Ohio Statuary Commission officially unveiled the Thomas Edison statue that will sit on Capitol Hill..

Republican Representative Ron Amstutz of Wooster says Edison is an appropriate symbol of Ohio—a state which he says is the home of a thriving creative spirit..

“Thomas Edison is a good representative of that creativity, of Ohio’s creative spirit in action. Edison was an amazing figure,” Amstutz said..

The statue—which will sit in the Statehouse Rotunda until its permanent move to Washington, D.C.—was created by Alan Cottrill, a sculptor from Zanesville..

Cottrill says knowing his art is going to Statuary Hall is comparable to an NFL player making it into the Football Hall of Fame..

“It’s the best there is, man. If you’re in the U.S. Capitol Building as a sculptor—there’s only about nine living sculptors that have a piece there so it means the world to me,” said Cottrill..

While Gfell continues to show off the Kinetoscope and finish off the roll of 100-year-old film—I ask if he has any favorite pieces in his Edison collection..

“Oh, they’re all my favorites. Yeah! They’re all my favorites,” said Gfell..

He says there’s one main lesson that Edison’s legacy can still teach people today..

“Never give up. There’s no substitute for hard work.”.

Something Gfell learned during his mission to get Edison into Statuary Hall – and he hopes that message carries on to every tourist, young and old, visiting the Capitol..