Born: February 11, 1847
Died: October 18, 1931 (age: 84)
Occupation: Entrepreneur, Inventor
Best Known for: Inventing the phonograph, lightbulb, and over 1,000 other inventions, a pioneer in the movie industry, founded General Electric (GE)
Thomas Edison is considered one of the best inventors in the history of humanity. He invented something useful 1,093 days of his life. At least, that’s how many U.S. patents he was given. A patent is a special license that allows an inventor-and no one else-to sell their creation. Edison had more patents than any inventor of his time!
Edison was also fearless in the face of failure. While trying to improve the light bulb we still use today, he failed 10,000 times. What did he do then? Edison tried again, using a different perspective. He experimented with many different materials to make the filament (the part that glows inside a bulb). He tried cotton, linen, paper, and metals. He even tried human beard hair! He worked, experimented, failed, and tried over and over again. Eventually, he was successful. He found that Japanese bamboo that was heated and carbonized worked best. This filament burned for 1200 hours! His “never quit” attitude was THE key to his success.
You Won’t Believe How Edison Grew Up!
Thomas was born in Milan, Ohio, on February 11, 1847, the youngest of seven children. His family soon moved to Michigan where he spent his childhood. Edison didn’t exactly do well in school. He started late because he was sick, and then dropped out after only three months. His teacher did not think young Thomas was very smart and called him “addled.” This means that the teacher thought he was not able to think clearly. His mother disagreed and decided to school him at home.
But Edison was ahead of other kids in one way: he set up his first invention lab at age 10 in his parents’ basement. Edison’s mom was a big fan of her son in his own lab, and she gave him plenty of experiments to do. “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,” Edison exclaimed.
From an early age, it seems Edison already had a great passion for business. He sold candy, vegetables, and newspapers that he published himself on the train (and probably ate some of the candy too while working). The story goes that one day he even saved a child from in front of a runaway train car. Edison somehow rescued the kid, and the child’s dad decided to “repay” Thomas for his heroism by training him as a telegraph operator. This was right up Edison’s alley: he loved devices and became more and more interested in all types of communication which would be the focus of many of his future inventions.
Discover How Edison Changed Our World
Edison was born more than 150 years ago, but many of his inventions still affect your life today. Did you know he invented an electric pen, film, the first talking doll, a phonograph, and a movie camera and viewer? The phonograph was his personal favorite, even though he was partly deaf (a result of his sickness as a kid)! While working to improve the telegraph and telephone, he figured out how to record sound on cylinders coated with tin foil, like your mother uses for cooking. His first phonograph had two needles--one for recording sound, and the second for playing it back.
Later in his career, he started an invention lab, and many other inventors worked for and with him. Lots of the inventions that rolled out of that lab were group efforts. The invention lab workers helped Edison create, perfect, and test these inventions. Menlo Park in New Jersey was the locale Edison chose for his invention lab. Soon Edison was called “the Wizard of Menlo Park”.
This was the first business or institution with the sole purpose of inventing cool and geeky stuff. Edison then used some of the lab’s inventions to start-up companies, including one called General Electric. Go to the corner store right now, and you’ll probably find something made by the giant GE company. Today they manufacture everything from jet engines, medical equipment, and power generators to light bulbs!
This Is Why Edison Was (Maybe) The Best Inventor Ever
His first invention was a flop. Edison created a vote recorder or counter. But it was way too slow and was never used by the U.S. Congress. That first failure didn’t slow Edison down. In 1870, he immediately went to work on making a stock ticker, a machine used by stock traders in N.Y. City where he lived. Edison invented the telegraph that sent four messages at the same time. In wartime and emergencies, the telegraph saved lives, and obviously, Edison helped save many more than before.
When Edison went to work on the light bulb, it already existed. But at the time, it only burned for a few short hours. Edison admitted that he tested “no fewer than 6,000 vegetable growths” trying to find the best possible stuff for light bulb filaments. When he was done, the bulb burned for up to 1,200 hours. Edison said he had never studied so hard and had created the craziest experiments to improve the humble light bulb. But he never got down or felt hopeless. “I cannot say the same for all my associates,” he concluded.
What did Edison do next? He couldn’t stop with the light bulb. He developed a utility system to deliver electricity to people’s homes. Look at all the wires outside your house, and you can thank Edison in part for letting you watch TV tonight! He also created the “Edison Electric Light Company”, together with safety fuses and on-off switches for light sockets. Thomas Edison went through life, taking advantage of opportunities in front of him (and in his basement) to become one of the world’s boldest inventors.
4 Mega-Fun Facts about Thomas Edison:
- His nickname at home was Al, from his middle name Alva.
- Edison named his first two kids Dot and Dash from the Morse code communication method he loved so much.
- The first recorded message on Edison’s phonograph was the children’s poem, “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.
- Edison sometimes worked 72 hours straight, and then slept four hours, especially when a big experiment was coming.