From John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington
Thomas A. Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, apparently was more at ease in a laboratory than he was mingling among his employees.
Mary Fackino, 104, often saw Edison at the alkaline battery plant he owned in West Orange, N.J., but she was never able to meet him.
"I'd see him in the hallways, but he never stopped," she said recently. "He'd walk by with his head down. He was quiet. I never talked to him. He never spoke to the people in the hallway."
Mary's mother, however, knew Edison's wife.
"My mother couldn't speak English, and she wanted to learn, and Edison's wife wanted to learn how to speak Italian," she said. "But it didn't last long. It didn't work out."
Mary had gone to work for Edison in 1917 at the age of 13. Edison was not only a famous inventor, holding 1,093 patents, the most issued to any individual, but he was also an industrial leader, creating companies such as his battery plant for the manufacture and sale of his inventions.
"I had to go to work," Mary said. "My mother needed help when my father died young. I didn't even graduate grammar [school]."
One of her fingers and a thumb still ache from working on a power press at Edison's battery plant. After three years, she switched to the plant's in-house magazine, the Storage Battery News.
"I was a reporter when they took me off the factory work," she said. "The guys thought I was too good to be in a factory like that."
As a reporter, she covered the plant's Assembly and Test Department. Edison died in 1931, but Mary continued working at his plant until 1944.
"I volunteered to help in World War II," she said. "I used to write the boys, and they would write to me, and I used to send them packages. I used to knit sweaters, too. When they came back, they used to meet me. Quite a few later passed away or were killed."
Mary celebrated her 104th birthday on Oct. 8 in Mooresville, N.C., where she now lives.
Another centenarian who crossed paths with Edison was Nancy Roberg, who was on the front porch of her home in Caspian, Mich., in April 1924 when a large black car pulled up. A man rolled down the window and asked directions to the Berkshire iron mine.
"She was tickled when she recognized the man was Henry Ford, and in the car with him were Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison, who were touring different Ford properties in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan," her daughter Mary Ann said.
Ford, Firestone and Edison were three of the most famous industrialists of their time, or of any time, for that matter. They were riding around with no police escort, not even a chauffeur. Just three (rich) friends out for a ride.
Nancy was 15 when they stopped by. She's now 100, having passed the century mark on Oct. 12 in Crystal Falls, Mich.
Photos: Mary Fackino, circa 1944 (family photo); Nancy Roberg, early 1930s (family photo); Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone, undated (AP photo).
Mary and Nancy were two of the centenarians featured by Willard Scott on NBC's TODAY show. If you know of any centenarians who've had a brush with history over the past century, please tell us a little bit about them in the comments section below and be sure to fill in your return e-mail address so we can get back to you for more details