Things You May Not Have Known About Thomas Edison
Thomas Alva Edison was a leading American inventor and innovator as well as a famous businessman. A humble beginning led Edison to become an inventor of many major technologies, including the first commercially viable incandescent light bulb and the electric power system that could make them work. During the Industrial Revolution, he became a key figure in helping build America’s economy. Indeed, Payless Power wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for his ingenuity that helped to light American and the world.
Here are some of Thomas Edison’s facts you probably didn’t know about:
- Edison received 1,093 patents for his inventions, which is a record number of patents for a single person. Having a patent means that you own the rights to an invention and no one else can make or sell it.
- Edison’s most famous inventions are:
- The electric light system (incandescent light bulb & direct current)
- The phonograph- a machine that records and plays back sound
- Motion picture – an early device for making movies
- A teacher described Edison as a “difficult” student. He attended school for only 12 weeks. After that, he was educated by his mother at home.
- Edison was known as Al instead of Thomas as a boy.
- Among his many disabilities, Edison lost much of his hearing at the age of 12. Despite not being completely deaf, he preferred to be able to not hear so he could concentrate on doing experiments and inventing things.
- Edison was only 15 years old when he started printing a newspaper on board the train he worked on.
- On a typical day, Edison would work 18 hours and sleep 4 hours.
- Edison frequently preferred night shifts so he could sneak in experiments while he was working as a telegraph operator.
- Edison has been called the “Wizard of Menlo Park” at one point in his life. Originally, Menlo Park was the location of one of his earlier factories.
- Edison received the French Legion of Honour in 1881 for his invention of the electric power system.
- Edison founded a company with the goal of inventing things. To develop his ideas, he hired people to work for him.
- The first lightbulb wasn’t invented by Thomas Edison – it was invented over 50 years before he started his own work. Yet he managed to re-invent a bulb that produced a gentle light that could burn for a long time, making it practical and usable in a domestic setting. The lightbulb was incandescent.
- In order to enable domestic light bulbs to be used in homes, Edison and his ‘inventors’ developed a way to send electricity into homes. As a result, electric power systems were developed.
- In order to develop his inventions more quickly, he called his staff “muckers” and got them to work together in teams.
- Nikola Tesla, an engineering visionary who worked for Edison’s company for a time, became Edison’s long-time rival.
In 1885 they parted ways and would publicly disagree regarding direct current electricity, Edison’s preferred method, versus alternating current electricity, Tesla’s preferred method. This was the “War of the Currents”. After this, Tesla teamed up with George Westinghouse, an Edison rival, resulting in a major power dispute.
Edison’s Early Life
Thomas Alva Edison was born On February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio. His mother Nancy Elliot and father Samuel Edison Jr. had seven children. Edison was the seventh and last child to be born in the family.
As a child, Edison was influenced greatly by his mother, a teacher who had a significant impact on his life, while his father was an exiled Canadian politician.
In 1854, after his family moved to Port Huron, Michigan, Edison attended public school for a period of 3 months. He was then considered by his teacher “difficult” due to his hyperactivity and tendency for distraction. He was immediately pulled from school by his mother, who taught him at home.
As a young boy, Edison showed an ardent thirst for knowledge, reading books on a wide range of subjects. He was fascinated by mechanical things and chemical experiments. As a result, Edison developed a process of independent self learning throughout his life.
Edison started his career as a newsboy and candy seller on Detroit’s Grand Trunk Railroad as early as 1859. The luggage car served as his laboratory for chemistry experiments and his mini-printing press. He published his first newspaper onboard a train, the Grand Trunk Herald. However, after an accidental fire on board, he had to cease his hidden operations. The young Edison was thrown off the train and forced to sell papers at several stations along the way.
Passengers enjoyed reading his current news articles. The experience led him to the idea for entrepreneurial ventures where he recognized a need and capitalized on it.
When Edison was twelve, he almost completely lost his hearing. Several theories explain his hearing loss. Some believed that it was caused by scarlet fever that he contracted as a child. While others claim that Edison was hit in the ears by a conductor after the fire accident in the baggage car, which Edison claims never happened.
Edison himself blamed it on an incident when he was dragged onto a train by his ears. Despite his disability, he was able to concentrate more easily on his experiments and research since it enabled him to focus more on them. However, it is evident that his deafness led him to be much more solitary and shy.
In 1871, Edison’s mother passed away, and that same year he married one of his former employees, Mary Stilwell. In spite of Edison’s apparent love for his wife, their relationship was plagued by difficulties, including his workaholic tendencies and her recurring illnesses. It is thought that Edison would often sleep in the lab and spend much of his time with male colleagues.
Nonetheless, they had three children during the course of their 13-year marriage.
- Marion Estelle Edison (1873–1965), nicknamed “Dot”
- Thomas Alva Edison Jr. (1876–1935), nicknamed “Dash”
- William Leslie Edison (1878-1937) was an inventor who graduated from Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School in 1900.
Marriages and Children
Thomas Edison’s first wife, Mary died at 29 years old of what was suspected to be a brain tumor in 1884.
A couple of years later, Edison (age 39) married Mina Miller (age 20) on February 24, 1886, in Akron, Ohio. Mina’s father was inventor Lewis Miller. Mina outlived her husband who died on August 24, 1947.
Edison and Mina also had three children together:
- Madeleine Edison (1888–1979), whose husband was airplane manufacturer John Eyre Sloane.
- Charles Edison (1890–1969) who succeeded his father’s company, facilities and laboratories upon his father’s death. He also served as a Governor of New Jersey from 1941–1944.
- Thomas Edison (1898-1992) was an inventor who graduated from MIT Physics in 1923) and is credited with more than 80 patents.
Edison’s Early Career
During 1866, a 19-year old Edison was mainly employed as a traveling telegrapher and had moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to work for the Associated Press.
Upon Edison’s return home to New York City in 1868, the family was in poverty while his mother was suffering from mental illness, and his father was unemployed.
Edison moved to Boston, where he soon found employment at Western Union. It was at that time that Boston was the cultural and scientific capital of the United States. Edison made an electric vote recorder which he used to quickly count votes in the legislature during his spare time.
Massachusetts lawmakers, however, did not seem to be interested. Legislators didn’t want the votes to be tabulated quickly, they explained. They wanted more time to influence their fellow legislators.
1. Automatic Telegraph
Edison improved the telegraph system by using a metal stylus to mark chemically-treated paper, and a typewriter-like device to transmit the information to the telegraph operator. Up to 1,000 words could be recorded per minute, making it possible to send long messages quickly.
2. Carbon Telephone Transmitter
Edison invented the carbon transmitter in 1877, which improved the telephone’s audibility by enabling clearer and louder transmissions.
3. The Light Bulb
Edison created a vacuum bulb in the 1870s, which created light by heating a metal filament. Edison was able to increase the life of the bulbs to approximately 1,200 hours by combining bamboo filaments and an improved vacuum pump that removed air more effectively.
Thomas Edison introduced the phonograph in December 1877. He first spoke, “Mary had a little lamb,” into the phonograph’s mouthpiece.
A tin-coated cylinder with two needles had been used for recording and reproducing sound. He gained worldwide fame when the US Army used the phonograph to bring music to the troops during World War I.
5. Motion Picture
6. Alkaline Battery
Edison invented the alkaline battery and began production in 1910. Edison’s storage battery was turned into the most successful product of his later career.
Thomas Edison Patents
Edison’s most famous inventions include the light bulb, the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the storage battery. Nevertheless, the quality and scope of Edison’s inventions made him a significant figure in the fields of invention, industrial research, and science. In general, his 1,093 patents fall into eight categories:
- Electric light & power- 425
- Phonographs and recorded sound – 200
- Telegraphy and telephony – 185
- Batteries – 145
- Mining and iron ore milling – 50
- Cement – 40
- Motion pictures – 10
- Miscellaneous – 50
1870-1875-Edison moved to New York City when he was 22, and invented the Universal Stock Printer. Its ownership rights were purchased for $40,000 by the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company. He stopped working as a telegrapher after this success and devoted himself entirely to inventions.
Edison worked on telegraph-related products for Western Union Telegraph Company and its competitors, as he worked in Newark, New Jersey for 5 years.
1879 – Patents were granted to Edison for the improved incandescent light bulb. It was soon manufactured and marketed widely for domestic use.
1880 – Edison established a company in January 1880 to power and light cities around the world with electricity. It was called the Edison Illuminating Company, which later became General Electric.
1881 – He left Menlo Park to set up facilities in several cities to install electrical systems.
1887 – Thomas Edison constructed a large laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, in 1887. In addition to machine shops, photographic and phonograph departments, a library, and auxiliary buildings for woodworking, metallurgy, and chemistry, the facility had galvanometer testing facilities.
1890’s – Edison worked on building a magnetic-ore processing plant in northern New Jersey which was a commercial flop.
1892 – There were 59 customers in lower Manhattan who received electrical power from Pearl Street’s generating station.
1891 – Edison patented the working motion picture camera, the Kinetoscope, and a viewing instrument, the Kinetograph, both developed with William K.L. Dickson.
1896 – Edison became the first person in the world who projected the first motion picture at Koster & Bial’s Music Hall in New York City.
1903 – Released the first Edison Film “The Great Train Robbery” which was created in Edison’s West Orange laboratory
1915 – Edison became the head of the Naval Consulting Board in 1915, an attempt by the government to bring science into its defense program. Edison continued his work and spent much of his time doing naval research. He worked on submarine detection, but felt that many of his inventions and suggestions were not accepted by the navy.
1918 – Edison ceased working with moving films after years of heated legal battles with competitors in the fledgling motion picture industry.
He spent more time at home as his health deteriorated in the 1920s
Edison’s invention factory at Greenfield Village, Michigan, was reconstructed in 1929 by Henry Ford, a friend of Edison. The museum opened during the 50th anniversary of Edison’s invention, the electric light. Sadly, Edison’s health had deteriorated that he could not attend the entire ceremony.
He fell into a coma on October 14, 1931, following a series of ailments that worsened over the course of two years. Edison died on October 18, 1931, at Glenmont in his private estate in West Orange, New Jersey.