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Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison is credited with inventions such as the first practical incandescent light bulb and the phonograph. He held over 1,000 patents for his inventions.

thomas edison


Who Was Thomas Edison?

Early life and education.

Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio. He was the youngest of seven children of Samuel and Nancy Edison. His father was an exiled political activist from Canada, while his mother was an accomplished school teacher and a major influence in Edison’s early life. An early bout with scarlet fever as well as ear infections left Edison with hearing difficulties in both ears as a child and nearly deaf as an adult.

Edison would later recount, with variations on the story, that he lost his hearing due to a train incident in which his ears were injured. But others have tended to discount this as the sole cause of his hearing loss.

In 1854, Edison’s family moved to Port Huron, Michigan, where he attended public school for a total of 12 weeks. A hyperactive child, prone to distraction, he was deemed "difficult" by his teacher.

His mother quickly pulled him from school and taught him at home. At age 11, he showed a voracious appetite for knowledge, reading books on a wide range of subjects. In this wide-open curriculum Edison developed a process for self-education and learning independently that would serve him throughout his life.

At age 12, Edison convinced his parents to let him sell newspapers to passengers along the Grand Trunk Railroad line. Exploiting his access to the news bulletins teletyped to the station office each day, Edison began publishing his own small newspaper, called the Grand Trunk Herald .

The up-to-date articles were a hit with passengers. This was the first of what would become a long string of entrepreneurial ventures where he saw a need and capitalized on the opportunity.

Edison also used his access to the railroad to conduct chemical experiments in a small laboratory he set up in a train baggage car. During one of his experiments, a chemical fire started and the car caught fire.

The conductor rushed in and struck Edison on the side of the head, probably furthering some of his hearing loss. He was kicked off the train and forced to sell his newspapers at various stations along the route.

Edison the Telegrapher

While Edison worked for the railroad, a near-tragic event turned fortuitous for the young man. After Edison saved a three-year-old from being run over by an errant train , the child’s grateful father rewarded him by teaching him to operate a telegraph . By age 15, he had learned enough to be employed as a telegraph operator.

For the next five years, Edison traveled throughout the Midwest as an itinerant telegrapher, subbing for those who had gone to the Civil War . In his spare time, he read widely, studied and experimented with telegraph technology, and became familiar with electrical science.

In 1866, at age 19, Edison moved to Louisville, Kentucky, working for The Associated Press. The night shift allowed him to spend most of his time reading and experimenting. He developed an unrestricted style of thinking and inquiry, proving things to himself through objective examination and experimentation.

Initially, Edison excelled at his telegraph job because early Morse code was inscribed on a piece of paper, so Edison's partial deafness was no handicap. However, as the technology advanced, receivers were increasingly equipped with a sounding key, enabling telegraphers to "read" message by the sound of the clicks. This left Edison disadvantaged, with fewer and fewer opportunities for employment.

In 1868, Edison returned home to find his beloved mother was falling into mental illness and his father was out of work. The family was almost destitute. Edison realized he needed to take control of his future.

Upon the suggestion of a friend, he ventured to Boston, landing a job for the Western Union Company . At the time, Boston was America's center for science and culture, and Edison reveled in it. In his spare time, he designed and patented an electronic voting recorder for quickly tallying votes in the legislature.

However, Massachusetts lawmakers were not interested. As they explained, most legislators didn't want votes tallied quickly. They wanted time to change the minds of fellow legislators.


Thomas Edison Fact Card

In 1871 Edison married 16-year-old Mary Stilwell, who was an employee at one of his businesses. During their 13-year marriage, they had three children, Marion, Thomas and William, who himself became an inventor.

In 1884, Mary died at the age of 29 of a suspected brain tumor. Two years later, Edison married Mina Miller, 19 years his junior.

Thomas Edison: Inventions

In 1869, at 22 years old, Edison moved to New York City and developed his first invention, an improved stock ticker called the Universal Stock Printer, which synchronized several stock tickers' transactions.

The Gold and Stock Telegraph Company was so impressed, they paid him $40,000 for the rights. With this success, he quit his work as a telegrapher to devote himself full-time to inventing.

By the early 1870s, Edison had acquired a reputation as a first-rate inventor. In 1870, he set up his first small laboratory and manufacturing facility in Newark, New Jersey, and employed several machinists.

As an independent entrepreneur, Edison formed numerous partnerships and developed products for the highest bidder. Often that was Western Union Telegraph Company, the industry leader, but just as often, it was one of Western Union's rivals.

Quadruplex Telegraph

In one such instance, Edison devised for Western Union the quadruplex telegraph, capable of transmitting two signals in two different directions on the same wire, but railroad tycoon Jay Gould snatched the invention from Western Union, paying Edison more than $100,000 in cash, bonds and stock, and generating years of litigation.

In 1876, Edison moved his expanding operations to Menlo Park, New Jersey, and built an independent industrial research facility incorporating machine shops and laboratories.

That same year, Western Union encouraged him to develop a communication device to compete with Alexander Graham Bell 's telephone. He never did.

Thomas Edison listening to a phonograph through a primitive headphone

In December 1877, Edison developed a method for recording sound: the phonograph . His innovation relied upon tin-coated cylinders with two needles: one for recording sound, and another for playback.

His first words spoken into the phonograph's mouthpiece were, "Mary had a little lamb." Though not commercially viable for another decade, the phonograph brought him worldwide fame, especially when the device was used by the U.S. Army to bring music to the troops overseas during World War I .

While Edison was not the inventor of the first light bulb, he came up with the technology that helped bring it to the masses. Edison was driven to perfect a commercially practical, efficient incandescent light bulb following English inventor Humphry Davy’s invention of the first early electric arc lamp in the early 1800s.

Over the decades following Davy’s creation, scientists such as Warren de la Rue, Joseph Wilson Swan, Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans had worked to perfect electric light bulbs or tubes using a vacuum but were unsuccessful in their attempts.

After buying Woodward and Evans' patent and making improvements in his design, Edison was granted a patent for his own improved light bulb in 1879. He began to manufacture and market it for widespread use. In January 1880, Edison set out to develop a company that would deliver the electricity to power and light the cities of the world.

That same year, Edison founded the Edison Illuminating Company—the first investor-owned electric utility—which later became General Electric .

In 1881, he left Menlo Park to establish facilities in several cities where electrical systems were being installed. In 1882, the Pearl Street generating station provided 110 volts of electrical power to 59 customers in lower Manhattan.

Later Inventions & Business

In 1887, Edison built an industrial research laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, which served as the primary research laboratory for the Edison lighting companies.

He spent most of his time there, supervising the development of lighting technology and power systems. He also perfected the phonograph, and developed the motion picture camera and the alkaline storage battery.

Over the next few decades, Edison found his role as inventor transitioning to one as industrialist and business manager. The laboratory in West Orange was too large and complex for any one man to completely manage, and Edison found he was not as successful in his new role as he was in his former one.

Edison also found that much of the future development and perfection of his inventions was being conducted by university-trained mathematicians and scientists. He worked best in intimate, unstructured environments with a handful of assistants and was outspoken about his disdain for academia and corporate operations.

During the 1890s, Edison built a magnetic iron-ore processing plant in northern New Jersey that proved to be a commercial failure. Later, he was able to salvage the process into a better method for producing cement.

Thomas Edison in his laboratory in 1901

Motion Picture

On April 23, 1896, Edison became the first person to project a motion picture, holding the world's first motion picture screening at Koster & Bial's Music Hall in New York City.

His interest in motion pictures began years earlier, when he and an associate named W. K. L. Dickson developed a Kinetoscope, a peephole viewing device. Soon, Edison's West Orange laboratory was creating Edison Films. Among the first of these was The Great Train Robbery , released in 1903.

As the automobile industry began to grow, Edison worked on developing a suitable storage battery that could power an electric car. Though the gasoline-powered engine eventually prevailed, Edison designed a battery for the self-starter on the Model T for friend and admirer Henry Ford in 1912. The system was used extensively in the auto industry for decades.

During World War I, the U.S. government asked Edison to head the Naval Consulting Board, which examined inventions submitted for military use. Edison worked on several projects, including submarine detectors and gun-location techniques.

However, due to his moral indignation toward violence, he specified that he would work only on defensive weapons, later noting, "I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill."

By the end of the 1920s, Edison was in his 80s. He and his second wife, Mina, spent part of their time at their winter retreat in Fort Myers, Florida, where his friendship with automobile tycoon Henry Ford flourished and he continued to work on several projects, ranging from electric trains to finding a domestic source for natural rubber.

During his lifetime, Edison received 1,093 U.S. patents and filed an additional 500 to 600 that were unsuccessful or abandoned.

He executed his first patent for his Electrographic Vote-Recorder on October 13, 1868, at the age of 21. His last patent was for an apparatus for holding objects during the electroplating process.

Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla

Edison became embroiled in a longstanding rivalry with Nikola Tesla , an engineering visionary with academic training who worked with Edison's company for a time.

The two parted ways in 1885 and would publicly clash in the " War of the Currents " about the use of direct current electricity, which Edison favored, vs. alternating currents, which Tesla championed. Tesla then entered into a partnership with George Westinghouse, an Edison competitor, resulting in a major business feud over electrical power.

Elephant Killing

One of the unusual - and cruel - methods Edison used to convince people of the dangers of alternating current was through public demonstrations where animals were electrocuted.

One of the most infamous of these shows was the 1903 electrocution of a circus elephant named Topsy on New York's Coney Island.

Edison died on October 18, 1931, from complications of diabetes in his home, Glenmont, in West Orange, New Jersey. He was 84 years old.

Many communities and corporations throughout the world dimmed their lights or briefly turned off their electrical power to commemorate his passing.

Edison's career was the quintessential rags-to-riches success story that made him a folk hero in America.

An uninhibited egoist, he could be a tyrant to employees and ruthless to competitors. Though he was a publicity seeker, he didn’t socialize well and often neglected his family.

But by the time he died, Edison was one of the most well-known and respected Americans in the world. He had been at the forefront of America’s first technological revolution and set the stage for the modern electric world.


  • Name: Thomas Alva Edison
  • Birth Year: 1847
  • Birth date: February 11, 1847
  • Birth State: Ohio
  • Birth City: Milan
  • Birth Country: United States
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: Thomas Edison is credited with inventions such as the first practical incandescent light bulb and the phonograph. He held over 1,000 patents for his inventions.
  • Technology and Engineering
  • Astrological Sign: Aquarius
  • The Cooper Union
  • Interesting Facts
  • Thomas Edison was considered too difficult as a child so his mother homeschooled him.
  • Edison became the first to project a motion picture in 1896, at Koster & Bial's Music Hall in New York City.
  • Edison had a bitter rivalry with Nikola Tesla.
  • During his lifetime, Edison received 1,093 U.S. patents.
  • Death Year: 1931
  • Death date: October 18, 1931
  • Death State: New Jersey
  • Death City: West Orange
  • Death Country: United States

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  • Article Title: Thomas Edison Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • Url: https://www.biography.com/inventors/thomas-edison
  • Access Date:
  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: May 13, 2021
  • Original Published Date: April 2, 2014
  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
  • Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.
  • I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill.
  • I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.
  • Restlessness is discontent — and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man — and I will show you a failure.
  • To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
  • Hell, there ain't no rules around here! We're trying to accomplish something.
  • I always invent to obtain money to go on inventing.
  • The phonograph, in one sense, knows more than we do ourselves. For it will retain a perfect mechanical memory of many things which we may forget, even though we have said them.
  • We know nothing; we have to creep by the light of experiments, never knowing the day or the hour that we shall find what we are after.
  • Everything, anything is possible; the world is a vast storehouse of undiscovered energy.
  • The recurrence of a phenomenon like Edison is not very likely... He will occupy a unique and exalted position in the history of his native land, which might well be proud of his great genius and undying achievements in the interest of humanity.” (Nikola Tesla)

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Reading Comprehension | A Short Biography of Thomas Alva Edison

Develop your reading skills. read the following text., edison's early life.

Thomas Edison

Thomas Alva Edison was an American inventor and businessman. He was born on February 11, 1847. His mother taught him at home. Much of his education came from reading R.G. Parker's School of Natural Philosophy and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art . Edison developed hearing problems at an early age. The cause of his deafness has been attributed to a bout of scarlet fever during childhood and recurring untreated middle-ear infections.

Edison developed many skills when he was young. He sold candy and newspapers on trains running from Port Huron to Detroit and sold vegetables to supplement his income. He also studied qualitative analysis and conducted chemical experiments on the train until an accident prohibited further work of the kind. Later, Edison obtained the exclusive right to sell newspapers on the road. This began Edison's long streak of entrepreneurial ventures, as he discovered his talents as a businessman. These talents eventually led him to found 14 companies, including General Electric, which is still one of the largest publicly traded companies in the world.

He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. Dubbed "The Wizard of Menlo Park", he was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large-scale teamwork to the process of invention, and because of that, he is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.

Edison died of complications of diabetes on October 18, 1931, in his home, "Glenmont" in Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey, which he had purchased in 1886 as a wedding gift for Mina, his second wife. He is buried behind the home.

Source: Wikipedia


  • Thomas Alva Edison used to go to school. a. True b. False
  • He was not only an inventor, but also a businessman. a. True b. False
  • He created the first industrial research laboratory. a. True b. False
  • He died in a hospital. a. True b. False

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biography text thomas alva edison

biography text thomas alva edison

A Brief Biography of Thomas Alva Edison

Written by John D. Venable

“But the man whose clothes were always wrinkled, whose hair was always tousled and who frequently lacked a shave probably did more than any other one man to influence the industrial civilization in which we live. 

To him we owe the phonograph and motion picture which spice hours of leisure; the universal electric motor and the nickel-iron-alkaline storage battery with their numberless commercial uses; the magnetic ore separator, the fluorescent lamp, the basic principles of modern electronics. Medicine thanks him for the fluoroscope, which he left to the public domain without patent. Chemical research follows the field he opened in his work on coal-tar derivatives, synthetic carbolic acid, and a source of natural rubber that can be grown in the United States. 

His greatest contribution, perhaps, was the incandescent lamp – the germ from which sprouted the great power utility systems of our day…​Although his formal education stopped at the age of 12, his whole life was consumed by a passion for self-education, and he was a moving force behind the establishment of a great scientific journal.

The number of patents – 1100 – far exceeds that of any other inventor. And the 2500 notebooks in which he recorded the progress of thousands of experiments are still being gleaned of unused material. Once, asked in what his interests lay, Edison smilingly responded, ‘Everything.’ If we ask ourselves where the fruits of his life are seen, we might well answer, ‘Everywhere.’”

biography text thomas alva edison

Thomas Alva Edison

The story of a great american ​.

Journeying from Holland, the Edison family originally landed in Elizabethport, New Jersey, about 1730.  In Colonial times, they farmed a large tract of land not far from West Orange, New Jersey, where Thomas A. Edison made his home some 160 years later.  Their fortunes fluctuated with their politics.  Like many well-to-do landowners of that time, John Edison, a great-grandfather of the inventor, remained a Loyalist during the revolution, suffered imprisonment and was under sentence of execution from which he was saved only through the efforts of his own and his wife’s prominent Whig relatives.  His lands were confiscated, however, and the family migrated to Nova Scotia, where they remained until 1811, when they moved to Vienna, Ontario.  Edison’s grandfather, Captain Samuel Edison, served with the British in the War of 1812.

In Ontario, Edison’s father, another Samuel, met and married Nancy Elliott, schoolteacher and daughter of a minister whose family had originally come from Connecticut where her grandfather Ebenezer Elliott had served as a captain in Washington’s army.

The younger Samuel now became involved in another political struggle – the much later and unsuccessful Canadian counterpart of the American Revolution known as the Papineau-MacKenzie Rebellion.  Upon the failure of this movement, he was forced to escape across the border to the United States, and after innumerable dangers and hardships, finally reached the town of Milan, Ohio, where he decided to settle.

Thomas Edison’s Early Days

The brick cottage in which Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847, still stands in Milan, Ohio.  Its humble size and simple design serve as a constant reminder that in America, a humble beginning does not hamper the rise to success.

Even as a boy of pre-school age, “Al” Edison was extraordinarily inquisitive; he wanted to find out things for himself.  The story is told of how he tried – unsuccessfully – to solve the mystery of hatching eggs by sitting on them himself, in his brother-in-law’s barn.  Among other tales of his youth in Milan are his narrow escape from drowning in the barge canal that ran alongside the Edison home, and his public spanking in the town square after he accidentally had set fire to his father’s barn.

When he was seven years old, his family moved again; this time to Port Huron, Michigan.  But, unlike their earlier migrations by wagon, the trip was made by railroad train and lake schooner.

Edison’s formal schooling was of short duration and of little value to him.  To use his own words, he “was usually at the foot of the class.”  His teacher did not have the patience to cope with so active and inquisitive a mind, so his mother withdrew him from school and capably undertook the task of his education herself.  In spite of his lack of formal schooling, Edison recognized  the great worth of education and, in his later years, sponsored the famous Edison scholarships for outstanding high school graduates who were selected each year through a national contest.

Young Tom’s First Laboratory

Most of Edison’s vast knowledge was acquired through independent study and training.  At the age of eleven, for example, he had his own chemical laboratory in the cellar of his Port Huron home and had read such books as Gibbon’s  “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Sears’ “History of the World,”  Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy,” and the “Dictionary of Sciences.”

At twelve, his parents permitted him to take a job as newsboy and candy “butcher” on the train of the Grand Trunk Railroad running from Port Huron to Detroit.  In this, his first job, Edison exhibited a knack for business and an ambition that far exceeded that of the average boy of his years.  He maintained a chemical laboratory in the train’s baggage car, which also served to house a printing press on which young Edison ran off copies of “The Weekly Herald,” the first newspaper ever edited, published and printed aboard a moving train.  In addition, he became a middle-man for fresh vegetables and fruit, buying from the farmers along the route and selling to Detroit markets.

When only thirteen years old, he was earning several dollars a day, a tidy sum even for a man in that period.  Already he was putting into practice a theory followed through his life – that hard work and sound thinking recognize no substitutes.

One of the most widely known stories about Edison is the one which attributes his deafness to a quick-tempered trainman who soundly boxed his ears when Edison’s traveling laboratory caused a fire to break out in the baggage car.

Only part of the tale is true:  the fire broke out and the trainman boxed his ears, but Edison himself never believed his deafness resulted from this incident.  He traced it to a later occasion when another trainman thoughtlessly picked him up by the ears to help him aboard a train that was pulling out of a station.

It was during this period that a dramatic incident occurred which altered the entire course of Edison’s career and which, therefore, may well have also altered the course of world progress.  At Mt. Clemens, Michigan, the young Edison risked his own life to save the station agent’s little boy from death under a moving freight car.  The grateful father taught him telegraphy as a reward.  Edison’s association with telegraphy brought to a climax his interest in electricity – a word with which the name of Edison was to become inseparably associated – and led him into studies and experiments which resulted in some of the world’s greatest inventions.

A Telegrapher at Seventeen

Edison’s skill as a sender and receiver earned him a job as a regular telegrapher on the Grand Trunk line at Stratford Junction, Ontario, when only seventeen years of age.  His creative imagination, however, proved his downfall in this instance.  He was fired when a supervisor happened across the secret of one of the young inventor’s creations – a device for automatically “reporting in” on the wire in Morse code every hour, when, in actuality, Edison was napping to make up for sleep lost in pursuing his studies.

As a telegrapher, Edison traveled throughout the middle west, always studying and experimenting to improve the crude telegraph apparatus of the era.  Turning eastward, Edison went to Boston where he went to work for Western Union as an operator.  In his spare time, he created his first invention to be patented – a machine for electrically recording and counting the “Ayes” and “Nays” cast by members of a legislative body.  While the invention earned him no money, because members of Congress could not be interested in any device to speed up proceedings, it did teach him a commercial lesson.  Then and there he decided never again to invent anything unless he was sure it was wanted.

From Boston, Edison went to New York, where he landed, poor and in debt, in 1869.  While working as an employee of the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company and later as a partner with Franklin L. Pope in their own electrical engineering company.  Edison invented the Universal Stock Printer.  For this device he received $40,000, the first money an invention brought him.

To Edison, the mere possession of money meant nothing; its only value rested in its ability to provide the tools and equipment necessary for further work and experiment.  With the $40,000 he opened a factory in Newark, New Jersey, in 1870, where he manufactured stock tickers and devoted his energies to invention.

By the time he was twenty-three, his established methods of hard work and sound thinking  had catapulted him to a point on the road to success rarely attained by one so young.

Edison’s Hectic Years

With his success as an inventor and manufacturer at the age of twenty-three, Thomas Alva Edison in 1870 plunged into a period of feverish endeavor that has no parallel in the lives of other great men of science.  His fertile brain and boundless energy drove him from one great invention to another, each of which, in turn, launched new manufacturing enterprises, giving employment to thousands of people.  Few were his working days that did not extend through twenty of the twenty-four hours.  The group of men who worked closely with him as his immediate assistants earned him the name of the “insomnia squad” as they tried valiantly to follow the pace set by the “boss.”

Actually there was no “boss” since, as the men who worked with him have testified, he worked harder, longer, and looked less like the owner of the plant than anyone present.  A casual visitor, we are told, would have regarded Edison as one of the least likely persons to have been in charge, judging by outward appearances.  Democracy walked with him through his laboratory.

Work in his Newark plants constantly demanded more time for production than creation, so in 1876, in order to devote more of his energies to invention, he turned the management of his factories over to trusted assistants and established laboratories at Menlo Park, New Jersey.

Before moving to Menlo Park, however, Edison made one of his great discoveries, an electrical phenomenon he called “etheric force.”  This was the discovery that electrically generated waves would traverse an open circuit – the principle on which wireless telegraphy and radio are founded.  The idea that electricity would traverse space was almost beyond belief at that time.

In a related field of research, Edison also discovered that messages could be sent through space by induction, in which a current generated in one set of wires induced a  like current to flow through another set of wires between which no connection existed.  As a result of this research, he received patents in 1885 on the transmission of signals, by induction, between moving train and a station and between ship and shore.

Edison Aids Marconi

Guglielmo Marconi had become a personal friend of Edison’s and, because of this friendship, Edison made these patents available to him rather than to a competitor who offered more money.  Thus, these patents helped Marconi to become recognized as the inventor of the wireless telegraph.

Edison was the first to give credit where credit was due, even though some of his earlier experiments and discoveries laid the groundwork for his successors.

It was at Newark, too, that Edison invented the “electric pen,” forerunner of the mimeograph machine.

With the opening of his Menlo Park laboratories, Edison devoted most of his time to invention rather than to the manufacture of things.  The results were astounding.

One of the greatest of the many “firsts” attributed to Edison is the carrying out of research on an organized basis.  Before Edison did this, the process of invention was usually a one-man and one-brain undertaking.  At  Menlo Park, Edison surrounded himself with scientific apparatus and trained assistants who handled the drudgery and time-consuming details of research, making possible his most acclaimed invention, the incandescent electric lamp.  Menlo Park itself was an experiment for Edison, and he did not really perfect his invention of organized research in industry until eleven years later, when he transferred operations to West Orange on a greatly enlarged scale.

Edison’s Favorite – The Phonograph

The carbon telephone transmitter which made the telephone commercially practical was invented by Edison in 1877, the same year he gave the world the phonograph.

Until Edison produced the carbon transmitter, telephone communication had been highly impractical.  He sold his rights in the invention to Western Union which, in turn, reached an agreement with the company backed by Alexander Graham Bell, and for many years thereafter telephone instruments bore the names of both Bell and Edison.  To use Edison’s expression, it was fifty-fifty – he invented the transmitter and Bell the receiver.

Edison’s carbon transmitter later helped to make radio possible in that the same principle was adopted in developing a practical microphone.

The phonograph not only was Edison’s favorite invention, but it probably was one of the most original ever created.  In most instances, the inventor is the man who first perfects a device or method for achieving a result which for a long period of time had been a goal of experimentation and research by others as well as himself.  But in the case of the phonograph, the idea of recording  sound for later reproduction had not been conceived until Edison received inspiration while experimenting with the automatic telegraph.  Just as amazing, perhaps, is the fact that his first phonograph, although just a crude model, was a complete success.

Lawyer Steals Edison Patents

Edison worked at breakneck speed during the decade following 1876.  Not alone was his own tireless constitution responsible for this pace; the period was one of unending competition and no holds were barred by his competitors. Despite his almost inhuman capacity for work, others in some instances gained recognition for creations that were rightfully his.  On one occasion, a lawyer entrusted to file applications for fifty-seven new patents stole the papers instead and sold them to Edison’s rivals.

The desire for revenge formed no part of Edison’s character, as revealed by his reaction to the theft of these patents.  Even after long years had gone by he steadfastly refused to name the dishonest attorney.  “His family might suffer,” he told associates who suggested that he make public the lawyer’s name.

Edison followed a policy which, absurd though it may sound today in contrast to the secrecy now surrounding most inventive endeavor, permitted the press to know and report even minute advances he made in experiments leading to the perfection of the first practical incandescent lamp.

The Edison Lamp

Others before and in the same period with Edison toiled long and hard to produce a practical incandescent lamp.  The idea was not original with him, but it required the Edison genius to solve the difficult problems involved.

Many persons tried to deprive Edison of the honor of having been the first to perfect a practical incandescent electric lamp, but they all met with failure.  Edison’s claim was to genuine to be set aside, even by the courts which, for one reason or another, might have been inclined to bias.

An English jurist considering the claim of an English inventor, for example, might well be inclined to rule against Edison, if such a ruling were at all possible.  But Lord Justice Fry, sitting in one of Great Britain’s Royal Courts of Justice, made this commentary on the claims of Joseph W. Swan, an English inventor: “Swan could not do what Edison did…the difference between a carbon rod (as employed by Swan) and a carbon filament (Mr. Edison’s method) was the difference between success and failure.

“Mr. Edison used the filament instead of the rod for a definite purpose, and by diminution of the sectional area made a physical law subserve the end he had in view.  The smallness of size, then, was no casual matter, but was intended to bring about, and did bring about, a result which the rod could never produce, and so converted failure into success.”

Edison realized that the invention of a practical lamp alone was not enough to replace gas as the most-used means of lighting.  Therefore, his work on the electric light is even more astonishing, because in addition to perfecting a commercially practical lamp he also invented a ‘complete generation and distribution system, including dynamos, conductors, fuses, meters, sockets, and numerous other devices.  Of 1,097 United States patents granted to Edison during his lifetime – by far the greatest number ever granted to one individual – 356 dealt with electric lighting and the generation and distribution of electricity.

The "Edison Effect"

The year 1883 was significant for Edison in that, by his discovery of what was to become known as the “Edison effect,” he pushed aside a veil of darkness behind which were to be found all the wonders of electronics.  Edison in this achievement discovered the previously unknown phenomenon by which an independent wire or plate, when placed between the legs of the filament in an electric bulb, serves as a valve to control the flow of current.  This discovery unearthed the fundamental principle on which rests the modern science of electronics.

In that year, 1883, Edison filed a patent on an electrical indicator employing the “Edison effect,” the first application in the field of electronics.

The facilities of Menlo Park were proving inadequate to meet the requirements of Edison’s amazing ability.  He began looking around for a place more suitable for his needs.  This he found in the little Essex County community of West Orange in northern New Jersey.  He gave the orders that set workmen to the task of building a new and greater research laboratory.

The West Orange Laboratory

Thomas Alva Edison entered into a new and the fullest phase of his career when, at age of forty, he moved his talents and tools from Menlo Park to his great new laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey, on November 24, 1887.

One of his first undertakings was the development of his favorite creation, the phonograph.  The pressure of his work in connection with the perfection and installation of electric lighting systems throughout the country had made it impossible for him to concentrate on the phonograph, but now he went to work in earnest to see that the instrument fulfilled the high destiny he had held out for it from its beginning ten years earlier.

During the first four years of his occupancy of his new laboratory at West Orange, he took out more than eighty patents on improvements on the cylinder phonograph and its businessman’s counterpart, the dictating machine.

At the same time, Edison interested himself in an entirely different field, one that was as new to the world as it was to him.  That field was the motion picture.  Eadweard Muybridge and others had done some experimental work, but had only hinted of motion pictures.  Muybridge, for example, by the employment of multiple cameras strung along a racetrack, had taken successive shots of a trotting horse, but he offered no method whereby the pictures could be viewed in motion.

The Motion Picture Camera

Two things led Edison to the invention of the motion picture camera:  His idea that motion could be captured by having one camera that would take repeated pictures at high speed, and a new celluloid film developed by George Eastman for use in still photography that proved adaptable to Edison’s proposed camera.

To Edison’s mind, motion pictures would do for the eye what the phonograph did for the ear.  Thus, we find that on Oct. 6, 1889, when they first projected an experimental motion picture in his laboratory, he gave birth to sound pictures as well.  The first movie actually was a “talkie.”  The picture was accompanied by synchronized sound from a phonograph record.

He applied for a patent on the motion picture camera on July 31, 1891.  The first commercial showing of motion pictures occurred three years later, April 14, 1894, with the opening of a “peephole” Kinetoscope parlor at 1155 Broadway, New York  City.

Several men developed machines for projecting motion pictures.  The best such projector, to Edison’s mind, was one built by Thomas Armat.  Edison acquired rights to Armat’s crude machine and then perfected it in his West Orange laboratory.

Commercial projection of motion pictures as we know it today began on April 23, 1896, at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall, New York City, where  the Edison Vitascope, embodying the basic principles of Armat’s invention with improvements by Edison, was used.

The vitascope was Edison’s name for the motion picture projector.  When he added sound, he called it the kinetophone, which he introduced commercially in 1913, or 13 years before Hollywood adopted that means of improving motion picture entertainment.

With Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen’s discovery of the X-ray in 1895, Edison turned his attention to the mysteries of these invisible rays.  Within a few months he developed the fluoroscope, which invention he did not patent, choosing to leave it to the public domain because of its universal need in medicine and surgery.  On May 16, 1896, he applied for a patent on the first fluorescent electric light, an invention that stemmed directly from his experimentation with the X-ray.

At the turn of the century, Edison propelled himself into one of the greatest sagas of science – his search for the acidless battery.  Others scoffed at his theory that somewhere in nature there existed the elements for a battery which would not destroy itself by corrosive action, but Edison was not to be denied.  After 10 years exhaustive experimentation he produced the alkaline storage battery, which today is employed in hundreds of industrial applications, such as providing power for mine haulage and inter- and intra-plant transportation, and in railway train lighting.

No field of scientific endeavor seemed foreign to his talents.  When, in 1914, a shortage of carbolic acid developed because World War I had cut off European supplies, Edison quickly devised a method of making domestic carbolic acid and was producing a ton a day within a month.

Edison and the War

New problems were heaped on Edison by the approaching entry of the United States into the war and the destruction by fire of his giant West Orange manufacturing plant.  Almost before the embers died, new buildings began to rise from the ruins.

America at that time was almost entirely dependent upon foreign sources for fundamental coal-tar derivatives vital to many manufacturing processes.  These derivatives were to become increasingly essential for the production of explosives, so Edison established plants for  their manufacture.  His work is recognized as having laid the groundwork for the most important development of the coal-tar chemical industry in the nation today.

Josephus Daniels, then-Secretary of the Navy, foresaw the country’s need for technological advances in its preparedness program.  His mind turned to one man, Thomas Edison, to undertake such a program, and in 1915, Edison became president of the newly created Naval Consulting Board, forerunner of the Navy Department’s great research division of today.  A colossal bronze head of the inventor, honoring him as the founder of the Naval Research Laboratories, was unveiled December 3, 1952, on the mall at the Anacostia, Maryland, Laboratories.

Edison arranged for leading scientists to serve with him on the consulting board and also made available to the government the facilities of his laboratory.  Much of the consulting board’s effort was directed against the German submarine menace.  Among the many inventions and ideas turned over to the Navy were devices and methods for detecting submarines  by sound from moving vessels and for detecting enemy planes, for locating gun positions by range sounding, improved torpedoes, a high-speed signalling shutter for searchlights, and underwater searchlights.  These and many other devices and formulas of prime importance came out of the Edison laboratory.

With the end of the war, Edison, although he had passed the 70 mark, thought only in terms of scientific and industrial progress.  There would be time enough to think of taking it easy when he reached 100, he said.  “My desire,” he once said of this period of his life, “is to do everything within my power to further free the people from drudgery, and create the largest possible measure of happiness, and prosperity.”

Honors Come to Edison

A great many honors and awards had been bestowed upon Edison by persons, societies, and countries throughout the world.  To him, such things were nice to have but were not to be sought after.  He could never get over being embarrassed when some new medal came his way.  But one of his greatest honors was yet to come.  On Oct. 20, 1928, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor – the nation’s highest award in recognition of services rendered.

A year later, on Oct. 21, 1929, the 50th anniversary of his invention of the incandescent  light, the world again paid homage to him.  In ceremonies participated in by Herbert Hoover, then-president of the United States, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, and other world figures, Edison re-enacted the making of the first practical incandescent lamp.

Time was running out for Edison, even though his keen mind and energies refused to admit it.  Creative thought and hard work still constituted his creed, and at the age of 80 he was launched on another great experiment.  Remembering his nation’s lack of preparedness for World War I, he attacked the problem of rubber so that, in the event of another war, the United States would not be dependent upon foreign sources for this vital material.  From goldenrod grown in his experimental gardens at Fort Myers, Fla., Edison was to produce rubber before his death.

A peaceful death enveloped him at his home, Glenmont, in Llewellyn Park, West Orange, on Oct. 18, 1931.  He was 84 years old.  His lifetime had embraced four wars and as many depressions.  His achievements, more so than those of any one man, had helped to lift America to the pinnacle of greatness.  The world was his beneficiary.

  • Scientific Methods
  • Famous Physicists
  • Thomas Edison

Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison, being one of the most creative inventors of all time, was considered a true gem in the world of inventions. He also spent a significant part of his life giving contributions to the world of designs that had an incredible influence on modern life. The creation of the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera, as well as improving the workings of telegraph and the telephone, were some of his astonishing inventions. Thomas Alva Edison was also a successful businessman and innovator who managed to change the lifestyle of people through his essential innovations and improvements in a wide range of fields.

Table of Contents

About thomas alva edison, education, career and achievements, the invention of the light bulb, the phonograph.

  • Edison’s Contribution in the Field of Electricity

Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison was the phenomenal American inventor who holds the world-record of 1093 patents. Also, he created the world’s first industrial research laboratory. Edison was born on 11th February 1847, in Milan, Ohio – U.S.

Edison’s patents and numerous inventions contributed significantly to mass communications and telecommunications. Stock ticker, phonograph, the practical electric light bulb , motion picture camera, mechanical vote recorder and a battery for the electric car were some of his notable inventions.

He sold newspapers to passengers traveling along the Grand Trunk Railroad line during his early years. This led him to start his own newspaper named as the ‘Grand Trunk Herald’. The access to up-to-date information in this newspaper became quite a hit between the masses. Also, it was the first of the many more to come business ventures by Edison.

  • Thomas Alva Edison always had a thrust of knowledge within him, and due to that, at an early age, he started reading a wide range of books and different subjects. 
  • Edison’s higher education did not include any university or attending college; instead, he was primarily self-taught. 
  • The absence of a well-defined curriculum led him to develop the skill of self-education and independent learning, which remained with him all his life.
  • He began his career as an inventor when he moved to New York. 
  • He devoted the decade of the 1870s to conducting experiments on the telephone, phonograph, electric railway, electric lighting, and other developing inventions. 
  • His first round of fame was brought by the design of the phonograph in 1877, which took his status to greater heights. 
  • He formed Edison Electric Light Company in 1878 in New York City.
  • Achievement:
  • He was felicitated with several awards and medals for his generous contribution to humankind. 
  • Some of them include the Distinguished Service Medal by the U.S. Navy and Congressional Gold Medal by the U.S. Also, he was decorated with the  “Officer of the Legion of Honour”  by France. 
  • He was welcomed into the New Jersey Hall of Fame and Entrepreneur Walk of Fame.

The greatest challenge faced by Thomas Alva Edison was to develop a practical luminous, electric light. He accomplished this using lower current electricity , an improved vacuum inside the globe and a small carbonized filament which is a stitched thread that burned for thirteen and a half hours. He was successful in producing a reliable, long-lasting source of light.

Did Edison really invent the light bulb?

biography text thomas alva edison

The tinfoil Phonograph was Thomas Edison’s first greatest invention in 1877. It was the first machine to record and play a person’s voice. Edison recited the rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on a tin cylinder that captured the recording.

He also recommended other uses for the phonograph, such as letter writing and dictation, record music boxes, etc. Edison’s device phonograph played using cylinders rather than discs. It consisted of two needles, one for recording and one for playback.

Edison’s contribution in the field of electricity

A system of conductors , meters, current switches, etc. was designed by Edison as he knew that his light bulb invention would be ineffective without a proper method to deliver electricity. Edison improved the designs of generators, which led him to invent more efficient power output generators than the existing ones at that time. Hence, this was marked as the beginning of the electric age.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Name some of the incredible inventions of thomas alva edison..

Thomas Alva Edison is famous for his incredible inventions like the light bulb, phonograph and motion picture cameras.

How did Thomas Alva Edison invent the lightbulb?

Edison invented the light bulb by passing electricity through a thin platinum filament packed inside a glass vacuum bulb.

What is a filament?

A filament is a metallic thin wire or thread inside a bulb that lights up when electricity is passed through it.

What is a phonograph?

It is a form of gramophone using cylinders to record and reproduce sounds.

How many times did Thomas Alva Edison fail while inventing the light bulb?

Thomas Alva Edison made 1000 unsuccessful attempts before getting the final result.

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