Chris Hunter, the Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Schenectady Museum, still remembers the first time he visited the museum that houses GE’s extensive archives as a middle-schooler in 1982. And after earning his master’s degree in history from the University of Albany, the lifelong Schenectady resident found himself naturally drawn back to the internationally-recognized home of more than 15,000 patents, 5,000 books, and 1.5 million photographs.
These days, Hunter organizes exhibits like the new online “Thomas Edison: A Lifetime of Innovation,” and also oversees GE’s archives. The latter is no easy task – it means fielding inquiries from all over the world, from the strange — like the request from a time travel enthusiast for the manual for a time machine made by GE “in the future” — to the more high-profile — like Ronald Reagan biographer Tom Evans’s request for footage of Reagan’s early days as a GE spokesman.
Watch footage of “The Queen’s Messenger,” the first broadcast television drama, which aired from GE’s experimental studio in Schenectady, New York, in 1928. That year’s GE television is Hunter’s favorite artifact.
Even better than the requests for information, though, are the unsolicited materials people send to the museum — particularly the “thank-you notes to GE for appliances and products that have worked well for fifty or even sixty years.”
But Hunter isn’t focused just on the past. He also helps GE connect its heritage to innovations happening today. One of his favorite recent tasks was setting up an exhibition at an employee open house that included examples of early inventions by Thomas Edison and Charles Steinmetz, one of the developers of alternating currents, displayed alongside GE’s most recent products. “GE was critical to the development of modern America,” says Hunter, “[The company] has changed the way people live and is still doing that today, from the invention of electricity to the development of alternative fuels.”
Hunter demurs like a proud parent when asked his favorite item in the museum. After a little prompting, he expresses a particular fondness for the first television manufactured by GE, in 1928! It broadcast the first live drama in television history, “The Queen’s Messenger,” from GE’s experimental studio, the predecessor of current Schenectady station WRGB.
Hunter is most excited these days about a recently-discovered and never-played tin foil recording made in June 1878 in St. Louis with the Edison phonograph. He and his team are sending the recording to the University of Southampton in England, where scientists have developed a method of playing these early recordings without tearing the tin foil. His hunch is that the recording is of a song written in honor of Edison’s invention, called “Mr. Phonograph.”