Thomas Alva Edison is considered as the greatest inventor of all times. Imagine the world without some of his inventions; life would for sure be hell. The inventions of this great genius gave rise to some of the major industries, including recording, motion pictures, and the electric bulb.
- Full Name: Thomas Alva Edison
- Also Known As: The Wizard of Menlo Park
- Famous For: Inventing the Electric Light Bulb
- Born On: 11 February 1847
- Place Of Birth: Milan, Ohio, United States
- Died On: 18 October 1931 (aged 84)
- Education: The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
- Profession: Inventor, Businessperson
- Famous Inventions: Phonograph, Telephone Transmitter, Incandescent Light Bulb, Electric Power Distribution and more.
- Awards: Matteucci Medal (1887), John Scott Medal (1889), Albert Medal (1892), Rumford Prize (1895), Edward Longstreth Medal (1899), John Fritz Medal (1908), Franklin Medal (1915), Navy Distinguished Service Medal (1920), Congressional Gold Medal (1928) and more.
- Parents: Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. (father), Nancy Matthews Elliott (mother)
- Spouses: Mary Stilwell (m. 1871-1884), Mina Miller (m. 1886)
- Daughters – Marion Estelle Edison, Madeleine Edison
- Sons – Thomas Alva Edison Jr., William Leslie Edison, Charles Edison, Theodore Miller Edison
Early Life and Childhood
Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio. He was the seventh and last child to his parents, who were Nancy and Samuel Edison. Like many children of his time, Thomas Edison did not receive a formal education. However, Thomas Edison was lucky since his mother used to be a school teacher. His mother would teach him how to read, write, and even arithmetic.
Growing up, Thomas Edison was an inquisitive child, and he is often described as a child who often learned everything on his own.
Disability is not Inability
At the age of 12, a tragedy befell Thomas Edison. He developed a hearing problem that was; as a result, Scarlet fever during his childhood. Thomas Edison thus ended up completely deaf in one ear, and he could barely hear in the other ear.
Thomas Edison did not see himself, incapable of being a normal kid. He would listen to a music player of piano by clamping his teeth into the wood to absorb the sound waves into his skull. As he grew older, he believed that his hearing ability was lost so that he could avoid distractions and concentrate more easily on his work.
As a child, Thomas Edison was fascinated with technology, which would later make his name famous in history. Just like most boys of his time, Thomas Edison, at the age of 13, started a job at a local railroad that ran through Port Huron to Detroit, where he sold candy, vegetables, and newspapers. All his weekly profits from the sales were channelled towards buying electric and chemical equipment that would later be used for his experiments.
One of his encounters at the train station was saving a three-year-old child Jimmie Mackenzie from being struck by a runaway train. The father of the saved child worked as a station agent and offered to train Thomas Edison as a telegraph operator.
As a telegraph operator, Thomas Edison was posted at Stratford junction, Ontario, on the Grand Trunk Railway, away from Port Huron. Thomas Edison, despite having a job, did not give up on his passion. He studied qualitative analysis and conducted several experiments on the same until he left the job at the train station.
Thomas Edison obtained the exclusive right to sell newspapers along the road. He would later set up and print the ‘Grand Trunk Herald’ and sold along with his other newspapers.
Thomas Edison discovered his skill as a businessman at a young age. These skills would later lead to the establishment of 14 companies, including General Electricity, which is one of the largest publicly-traded companies in the world.
In 1869, Thomas Edison patented his first invention, which was an electric vote recorder, which could be used by election bodies to speed up the voting process. Sadly, the machine became a commercial failure, and so, because of this, Edison focused on inventions that would have a strong commercial appeal for the rest of his career. This, he believed, had the potential of earning him financial rewards.
At the age of 19, Thomas Edison moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked with Western Union. He worked the Associated Press bureau News Wire. Thomas Edison preferred to work on a night shift as it gave him plenty of time to read and experiment with his discoveries.
One night in 1867, while working with a lead-acid battery, he spilled Sulfuric acid on the floor. The acid ran between the floorboards and onto his boss’s desk below. The next thing that followed was Thomas Edison getting fired.
In 1870 to 1875, Thomas Edison worked at New Jersey, where he developed telegraph – related products for both Western Union telegraph company. The development of the telegraph was the first step in the communication revolution. The rapid growth of the communication industry into the 19th century gave Thomas Edison the chance to travel, explore the world, and gain experience.
In 1868, Edison decided to settle in Boston. Here, he began to change his profession from a telegrapher to an inventor.
Messages received on the initial telegraph were inscribed as a series of dots and dashes in a strip of paper, which was decoded and read, so Thomas Edison’s partial deafness was no handicap. Receivers were increasingly being equipped with a sounding key, enabling telegraphers to read messages by the click. The transformation of telegraphy to an auditory art left Thomas Edison more disadvantaged during his career as a telegrapher. Edison then focused his energy on developing a device that would favor his physical limitations.
In January 1869, he made progress with the duplex telegraph, a device capable of transmitting two messages simultaneously on one wire and a printer, which would convert electric signals to letters. The automatic telegraph, which recorded messages by means of a chemical reaction, proved of limited commercial success. However, the work advanced by Edison’s knowledge of chemistry laid the basis for developing the electric pen and Mimeograph, both of which were important devices in the early office machine industry.
Later on, he devised the quadruplex, which was capable of transmitting four messages simultaneously over one wire. The quadruplex was snatched from Edison by his rivals in December 1874. This happened after he was paid more than $100,000 in cash, bonds, and stock. This was one of the largest payments for any invention during that time.
In 1875, at the age of 28, Thomas Edison enrolled in a four-year chemistry course at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He did this to have some scientific understanding, which would, later on, be very helpful in his invention. Thomas Edison moved to New York City in 1869, where he continued to work on inventions related to the telegraph.
The Stock Printer
His first successful invention was an improved stock ticker, referred to as the ‘Universal stock printer.’ Thomas Edison was paid $40,000, money that he needed to set up his first small laboratory and manufacturing facility in Newark, New Jersey in 1871. Thomas Edison dedicated himself in inventing and manufacturing devices that greatly improved the speed and efficiency of the telegraph.
In 1871, Thomas Edison lost his mother. It was in this same year that he married his 16-year-old wife, Mary Stilwell. Financial difficulties set even with his prolific telegraph work. However, his father was beneficial, and Thomas Edison built a laboratory and machine shop in Menlo Park, New Jersey, which is 12 miles south of Newark.
After grieving Mary for close to 2 years, Thomas Edison married 20-year-old Mina Miller. She and Edison had three children of their own, and the family moved to West Orange, New Jersey, where Thomas Edison built another laboratory.
Hidden Fact: Thomas Edison was a poor financial manager, and he experienced financial difficulties. He was often spending and giving away money more rapidly than he earned it.
The Carbon Transmitter
In 1877, Thomas Edison had become so great. He developed the carbon transmitter, which was a device that improved the audibility of the telephone by making it possible to transmit voices at higher volume and with more audibility.
The Wizard of Menlo Park – Phonograph Invention
In the same year 1877, his initial work with the telephone and the telegraph led to the invention of the Phonograph, which would record sound as indentations on a sheet of paraffin-coated paper, the sound would then be reproduced when the paper was moved beneath a stylus.
Edison had the aim of trying to improve on Alexander Graham Bell‘s transmitter to achieve better sound quality across a longer distance. To test his idea, Thomas Edison spoke into a diaphragm with a needle attached; as he spoke, the needle vibrated against a piece of paraffin paper, carving into the sound wave’s ups and downs. When he added a second needle to retrace the paper marks, the vibrating diaphragm reproduced Edison’s voice.
The Phonograph took some years before it could be produced and sold commercially. All the numerous and successful inventions earned Thomas Edison the name ‘The Wizard of Menlo Park.’
The Phonograph being Thomas Edison’s first great invention, created a sensation and brought him international fame. Edison toured the country with his new invention and was even invited into the white house to demonstrate it to the then resident Rutherford B. Hayes in April 1878.
The Electric Bulb
For the last 50 years, scientists had been looking for a way to replace the gaslight. Thomas Edison shifted his focus on inventing a safe and inexpensive electric light. Indoor gas lamps that were in almost every home were not as effective; the bulbs produced terrible fumes and covered everything in soot. Thomas Edison was looking for a way to regulate incandescent light and make the bulb burn longer and more reliably.
Thomas Edison set up the Edison Electric Light Company that began research and development, with the help of prominent financial backers like J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt family. Thomas Edison made a breakthrough in October 1879 with a bulb that used platinum filament.
In the summer of 1880, Edison realized that carbonized bamboo was a better alternative for the filament, which proved to be the key to a long-lasting and affordable light bulb.
Menlo Park now became the village of light. People would come just to stare every night to see the light through Thomas Edison’s house’s window. They would marvel at how the bulbs stayed lit through wind and rain, and they could be turned on and off with ease. Thousands of passengers on the railway line would empty from the train to see the laboratory that made the night look like noon.
In 1881, Thomas Edison set up an electric light company in Newark and moved to New York the following year with his family. Thomas Edison received several contracts such as to electrify part of New York City, and built a generating plant on Pearl Street.
Thomas Edison moved his family to Gramercy Park. In 1884, Mary died suddenly from the congestion of the brain possible caused by morphine overdose. Mary died at 29, and after her death, Edison left Menlo Park for good.
West Orange Inventions
Thomas Edison built a large estate and research laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, with facilities including a machine shop, library, and building for metallurgy, chemistry, and woodworking. He embarked on improving the Phonograph, with his idea of linking the Phonograph to a zoetrope, he worked with William KL Dickson and succeeded in constructing a working motion picture camera, the kinetograph, and viewing instrument. The kinetoscope was then patented in 1891.
In 1918, Thomas Edison stopped working on the moving film due to legal battles. However, he had succeeded in developing an alkaline storage battery, which he originally worked on a power source for the Phonograph; he later supplied for the submarines and electric vehicles.
Henry Ford asked Edison in 1912 to design a battery for the self-starter which could then be introduced on the iconic model T.
Illness and Death
Thomas Edison had increasingly poor health during the last two years of his life. He spent more time away from the laboratory working at Glenmont. In his 80s, he suffered from different ailments, and in August 1931, Edison collapsed at Glenmont, and on October 18, 1931, the great inventor of all times passed away.
Even in his old age, Thomas Edison continued working into his late 80s. He is such an amazing contributor to modern-day technology. His disability did not limit him to what he could achieve, and he rose from poor, uneducated railroad worker to one of the most famous men in world history.
Lesser-Known Facts about Thomas Edison
- He was a great enthusiast of clean energy technology.
- He had close to 1,100 patents to his name and no one has ever topped his record.
- His first job was on a train.
- He started New York City Electric Company.
- He saved a child’s life and later his life changed.
- His last breath was captured in a test tube.
- He lost his hearing ability at the age of 12.
Famous Quotes by Thomas Edison
“I never did a day’s work in my life, it was all fun.”
“The greatest invention in the world is the mind of a child.”
“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
“Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.”
“Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”
“We don’t know a millionth of one percent about anything.”
“The trouble with most people is that they quit before they start.”
“I find out what the world needs. Then, I go ahead and invent it.”
“I owe my success to the fact that I never had a clock in my workroom.”
“Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.”
“We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.”
“The successful person makes a habit of doing what the failing person doesn’t like to do.”
“I believe in the existence of a Supreme Intelligence pervading the Universe.”
“If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”
“Most of my ideas belonged to other people who never bothered to develop them.”
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I’ll show you a failure.”
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.”
“I have far more respect for the person with a single idea who gets there than for the person with a thousand ideas who does nothing.”
“During all those years of experimentation and research, I never once made a discovery. All my work was deductive, and the results I achieved were those of invention, pure and simple.”
“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”