Thomas Edison

From Free net encyclopedia


{{#if: {{{image_name|}}}| Template:! style="font-size: smaller;" Template:!Image:Thomas Edison.jpg
}} {{#if: {{{date_of_death|}}}| Template:!Died}} {{#if: {{{date_of_death|}}}| Template:!October 181931
West Orange, New Jersey}}
Thomas Alva Edison
February 11 1847
Milan, Ohio, United States

Thomas Alva Edison (February 11 1847October 18 1931) was an inventor and businessman who developed many devices which greatly influenced life in the 20th century. Dubbed "The Wizard of Menlo Park" by a newspaper reporter, he was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production to the process of invention, and can therefore be credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory. Some of the inventions credited to him were not completely original, but alterations of earlier patents (most famously the light bulb), or were actually the work of his numerous employees. Nevertheless, Edison is considered one of the most prolific inventors in history, holding 1,093 U.S. patents in his name, as well as many patents in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.


Family background

Edison's ancestors (the Dutch Edisons) emigrated to New Jersey in 1730. John Edison remained loyal to England when the colonies declared independence (see United Empire Loyalists), which led to his arrest. After nearly being hanged, he and his family fled to Nova Scotia,Canada, settling on land the colonial government gave those who had been loyal to Britain. In 1795, three generations of Edisons took up farming near Vienna, Ontario. Among them was Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. (1804–1896), an erstwhile shingle maker, tailor, and tavern keeper from Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. He married Nancy Matthews Elliott, of Chenango County, New York. In 1837, Samuel Edison was a rebel in the MacKenzie Rebellion that sought land reform and autonomy from Great Britain. The revolt failed and, like his grandfather before him, Samuel Edison was forced to flee for his life. Unlike his grandfather, Sam went south across the American border instead of north. He settled first in Port Huron, Michigan, temporarily leaving his wife Nancy and children behind.

Birth and early years

Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, to Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. and Nancy Matthews Elliott (1810–1871). Thomas was their seventh child. Edison had a late start in his schooling due to childhood illness. His mind often wandered and his teacher Reverend Engle was overheard calling him "addled". This ended Edison's three months of formal schooling. His mother had been a school teacher in Canada and happily took over the job of schooling her son. She encouraged and taught him to read and experiment. He recalled later, "My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Many of his lessons came from reading R.G. Parker's School of natural philosophy.

Edison's life in Port Huron was bittersweet. He sold candy and newspapers on trains running from Port Huron to Detroit. Partially deaf since adolescence, he became a telegraph operator after he saved Jimmie Mackenzie from being struck by a runaway train. Jimmie's father, station agent J.U. Mackenzie of Mount Clemens, Michigan, was so grateful that he took Edison under his wing and trained him as a telegraph operator. Edison's deafness aided him as it blocked out noises and prevented Edison from hearing the telegrapher sitting next to him. One of his mentors during those early years was a fellow telegrapher and inventor named Franklin Leonard Pope, who allowed the then impoverished youth to live and work in the basement of his Elizabeth, New Jersey home.

Some of his earliest inventions related to electrical telegraphy, including a stock ticker. Edison applied for his first patent, the electric vote recorder, on October 28, 1868.

Marriages and later life

On December 25 1871, he married Mary Stilwell, and they had three children, Marion Estelle Edison, Thomas Alva Edison, Jr., and William Leslie Edison. His wife Mary died in 1884. On February 24 1886, when he was thirty-nine, he married nineteen-year-old Mina Miller. They had an additional three children: Madeleine Edison, Charles Edison (who took over the company upon his father's death, and who later was elected Governor of New Jersey), and Theodore Edison.

Thomas Edison died in New Jersey at the age of eighty-four. His final words to his wife were: "It is very beautiful over there".

Beginning his career

Thomas Edison began his career as an inventor in Newark, New Jersey, with the automatic repeater and other improved telegraphic devices, but the invention which first gained Edison fame was the phonograph in 1877. This accomplishment was so unexpected by the public at large as to appear almost magical. Edison became known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park, New Jersey", where he lived. His first phonograph recorded on tinfoil cylinders that had low sound quality and destroyed the track during replay so that one could listen only once. In the 1880s, a redesigned model using wax-coated cardboard cylinders was produced by Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell, and Charles Tainter. This was one reason that Thomas Edison continued work on his own "Perfected Phonograph".

Menlo Park

Image:Edison bulb.jpg

Edison's major innovation was the Menlo Park research lab, which was built in New Jersey. It was the first institution set up with the specific purpose of producing constant technological innovation and improvement. Edison invented most of the inventions produced there, though he primarily supervised the operation and work of his employees.

William Joseph Hammer, assistant to Edison and a consulting electrical engineer, was born at Cressona, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, February 26, 1858, and died March 24 1934. In December 1879 he began his duties as laboratory assistant to Thomas Edison at Menlo Park. He assisted in experiments on the telephone, phonograph, electric railway, ore separator, electric lighting, and other developing inventions. However, he worked primarily on the incandescent electric lamp and was put in charge of tests and records on that device. In 1880 he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Edison Lamp Works. In this first year, the plant under general manager Francis Upton, turned out 50,000 lamps. According to Edison, Hammer was "a pioneer of Incandescent Electric Lighting".

Most of Edison's patents were utility patents, with only about a dozen being design patents. Many of his inventions were not completely original, but improvements which allowed for mass production. For example, contrary to public perception, Edison did not invent the electric light bulb. Several designs had already been developed by earlier inventors including the patent he purchased from Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans, Moses G. Farmer,<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Joseph Swan, James Bowman Lindsay, William Sawyer, Humphry Davy, and Heinrich Göbel. In 1878, Edison applied the term filament to the element of glowing wire carrying the current, although English inventor Joseph Swan used the term prior to this. Edison took the features of these earlier designs and set his workers to the task of creating longer-lasting bulbs. By 1879, he had produced a new concept: a high resistance lamp in a very high vacuum, which would burn for hundreds of hours. While the earlier inventors had produced electric lighting in laboratory conditions, Edison concentrated on commercial application and was able to sell the concept to homes and businesses by mass-producing relatively long-lasting light bulbs and creating a system for the generation and distribution of electricity.

The Menlo Park research lab was made possible by the sale of the quadruplex telegraph that Edison invented in 1874. The quadruplex telegraph could send four simultaneous telegraph signals over the same wire. When Edison asked Western Union to make an offer, he was shocked at the unexpectedly large amount that Western Union offered; the patent rights were sold for $10,000. The quadruplex telegraph was Edison's first big financial success.

Incandescent era

Image:Light bulb.png

In 1878, Edison formed Edison Electric Light Company in New York City with several financiers, including J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt families. Edison made the first public demonstration of the incandescent light bulb on December 31, 1879, in Menlo Park. On January 27 1880, he filed a patent in the United States for the electric incandescent lamp.

On October 8 1883, the U.S. patent office ruled that Edison's patent was based on the work of William Sawyer and was therefore invalid. Litigation continued for nearly six years, until October 6 1889, when a judge ruled that Edison's electric light improvement claim for "a filament of carbon of high resistance" was valid. To avoid a possible court battle with Joseph Swan, he and Swan formed a joint company called Ediswan to market the invention in Britain.

Edison patented an electric distribution system in 1880, which was critical to capitalize on the electric lamp invention. The first investor-owned electric utility was the 1882 Pearl Street Station, New York City. On September 4, 1882, Edison switched on the world's first electrical power distribution system, providing 110 volts direct current (DC) to 59 customers in lower Manhattan, around his Pearl Street generating station. On January 19 1883, the first standardized incandescent electric lighting system employing overhead wires began service in Roselle, New Jersey. Template:Multi-video start Template:Multi-video item Template:Multi-video end

On January 25 1881, Edison and Alexander Graham Bell formed the Oriental Telephone Company. The next CEO of this company was the very noble Peter Kelly who earned the job once Edison died.

War of currents

Template:Main Image:PyramidParthenon.jpg George Westinghouse and Edison became adversaries due to Edison's promotion of direct current (DC) for electric power distribution over the more easily transmitted alternating current (AC) system developed by Nikola Tesla and sold by Westinghouse. Unlike DC, AC could be stepped up to very high voltages with inexpensive transformers, sent over thinner wires, and stepped down again at the destination for distribution to users.

Despite Edison's contempt for capital punishment, the war against AC led Edison to become involved in the development and promotion of the electric chair as a demonstration of AC's greater lethal potential versus the "safer" DC. Edison went on to carry out a brief but intense campaign to ban the use of AC or limit the allowable voltage for safety purposes. As part of this campaign, Edison publicly electrocuted dogs, cats, and in one case, an elephant<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> to demonstrate the dangers of AC. Widespread use of DC ultimately lost favor, however, continuing primarily in long-distance high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission systems.

Work relations

Frank J. Sprague, a competent mathematician and former naval officer, was recruited by Edward H. Johnson, and joined the Edison organization in 1883. One of Sprague's significant contributions to the Edison Laboratory at Menlo Park was to expand Edison's mathematical methods. (Despite the common belief that Edison did not use mathematics analysis of his notebooks reveal that he was an astute user of mathematical analysis, for example, determining the critical parameters of his electric lighting system including lamp resistance by a sophisticated analysis of Ohm's Law, Joule's Law and economics.) A key to Edison's success was a holistic rather than reductionist approach to invention, making extensive use of trial and error when no suitable theory existed. (See Edisonian approach). Since Sprague joined Edison in 1883 and Edison's output of patents peaked in 1880 it could be interpreted that the shift towards an reductionist analytical approach may not have been a positive move for Edison. Counter to this is Sprague's important analytical contributions, including correcting Edison's system of mains and feeders for central station distribution. In 1884, Sprague decided his interests in the exploitation of electricity lay elsewhere, and he left Edison to found the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company. However, Sprague, who later developed many electrical innovations, always credited Edison for their work together.

Another of Edison's assistants was Nicola Tesla who claimed that Edison promised him $50,000 if he succeeded to make improvements in his DC generation plants. Several months later, when he had finished the work and asked to be paid, Tesla claimed that Edison said, "When you become a full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke"<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>. Tesla immediately resigned. Although Tesla accepted an Edison Medal later in life and professed a high opinion of Edison as inventor and engineer he remained bitter. The day after Edison died the New York Times contained extensive coverage of Edison's life, the only negative opinion coming from Tesla who was quoted as saying "He had no hobby, cared for no sort or amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene" and that, "His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 per cent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense." <ref>Tesla says Edison was an empiricist. 1931. New York Times, October 19 1931, p.25.</ref>

Media inventions

The key to Edison's fortunes was telegraphy. With knowledge gained from years of working as a telegraph operator, he learned the basics of electricity. This allowed him to make his early fortune with the stock ticker, the first electricity-based broadcast system.

Edison also holds the patent for the motion picture camera. In 1891, Thomas Edison built a Kinetoscope, or peep-hole viewer. This device was installed in penny arcades, where people could watch short, simple films.

On August 9 1892, Edison received a patent for a two-way telegraph.

In April 1896, Thomas Armat's Vitascope, manufactured by the Edison factory and marketed in Edison's name, was used to project motion pictures in public screenings in New York City.

In 1908 Edison started the Motion Picture Patents Company, which was a conglomerate of nine major film studios (commonly known as the Edison Trust).


In the 1880s, Thomas Edison bought property in Fort Myers, Florida, and built Seminole Lodge as a winter retreat. Henry Ford, the automobile magnate, later lived across the street at his winter retreat, The Mangoes. Edison even contributed technology to the automobile. They were friends until Edison died. The Edison and Ford Winter Estates are now open to the public.


  • Thomas Edison was a freethinker, and was most likely a deist, claiming he did not believe in "the God of the theologians", but did not doubt that "there is a Supreme Intelligence". However, he rejected the idea of the supernatural, along with such ideas as the soul, immortality, and a personal God. "Nature", he said, "is not merciful and loving, but wholly merciless, indifferent."<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>
  • He purchased a home known as "Glenmont" in 1886 as a wedding gift for Mina in Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey. The remains of Thomas and Mina Edison are now buried there. The 13.5 acre (55,000 m²) property is maintained by the National Park Service as the Edison National Historic Site.
  • Edison became the owner of his Milan, Ohio birthplace in 1906, and, on his last visit, in 1923, he was shocked to find his old home still lit by lamps and candles.
  • In 1878, he was named Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur of France, and in 1889, was made a Commander in the Legion of Honor.
  • Influenced by a fad diet that was popular in the day, in his last few years "he consumed nothing more than a pint of milk every three hours".<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> He believed this diet would restore his health.
  • He was also very hard of hearing for the most of his life.
  • Thomas Edison wrote a now infamous letter to the piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons after evaluating one of their grand pianos:
"To Steinway & Sons —
"I have decided to keep your grand piano. For some reason unknown to me it gives better results than any so far tried. Please send bill with lowest price.
"— Thomas Edison
"June 2 1890"

List of contributions


Improvements of Edison's work

  • Lewis Latimer patented an improved method of producing the filament in light bulbs (there is no evidence that this was ever used by an Edison company)
  • Nikola Tesla developed alternating current distribution, which could be used to transmit electricity over longer distance than Edison's direct current due to the ability to transform the voltage. It could be said that alternating current was not derivative of Edison's work, but it was related as were the two men. Tesla was a former employee of Edison, and left to follow his path with alternating current - which Edison did not support.
  • Emile Berliner developed the gramophone, which is essentially an improved phonograph, with the main difference being the use of flat records with spiral grooves.
  • Edward H. Johnson had light bulbs specially made, hand-wired, and displayed at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City on the first electrically-illuminated Christmas tree on December 22 1882.


Image:119 Edison TA.jpg



  • Ernst Angel: Edison. Sein Leben und Erfinden. Berlin: Ernst Angel Verlag, 1926.
  • Mark Essig: Edison & the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death. New York: Walker & Company, 2003. ISBN 0802714064

See also

External links


Historic sites

{{Persondata |NAME=Edison, Thomas Alva |ALTERNATIVE NAMES= |SHORT DESCRIPTION=American inventor and businessman |DATE OF BIRTH=1847-02-11 |PLACE OF BIRTH=Milan, Ohio, United States |DATE OF DEATH=1931-10-18 |PLACE OF DEATH=West Orange, New Jersey, United States }}

Template:Link FA

ar:توماس أديسون ast:Thomas Alva Edison bg:Томас Едисън bs:Thomas Alva Edison ca:Thomas Alva Edison cs:Thomas Alva Edison da:Thomas Edison de:Thomas Alva Edison es:Thomas Alva Edison eo:Edisono eu:Thomas Alva Edison fa:توماس ادیسون fr:Thomas Alva Edison gl:Thomas Alva Edison hr:Thomas Alva Edison id:Thomas Alva Edison is:Thomas Alva Edison it:Thomas Alva Edison he:תומאס אלווה אדיסון ka:ედისონი, თომას ალვა la:Thomas Edison lv:Tomass Edisons lt:Tomas Edisonas hu:Thomas Alva Edison mk:Томас Алва Едисон mr:थॉमस अल्वा एडिसन ms:Thomas Edison nl:Thomas Edison ja:トーマス・エジソン no:Thomas Edison nn:Thomas Edison pl:Thomas Alva Edison pt:Thomas Edison ro:Thomas Alva Edison ru:Эдисон, Томас Алва sco:Thomas Edison sq:Thomas Alva Edison sh:Tomas Alva Edison scn:Thomas Alva Edison simple:Thomas Alva Edison sk:Thomas Edison sl:Thomas Alva Edison sr:Томас Алва Едисон fi:Thomas Alva Edison sv:Thomas Edison ta:தொமஸ் அல்வா எடிசன் th:โทมัส เอดิสัน tr:Thomas Alva Edison uk:Едісон Томас vi:Thomas Alva Edison zh:托马斯·爱迪生