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Society & Culture - People - Edison

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration


Edison: A Life of Invention (1847-1931)
by Nieves (Y5B, 06-07)
Based on her oral presentation in class, December 2006. It includes audios (below)

Edison's Childhood
Thomas Alva Edison (Tom) was born in Milan, Ohio (USA), on the 11th of February in 1847. February 11 was designated as National Inventor´s Day in recognition of the inventions which he contributed to mankind.

Edison’s family was of Dutch origin.

At the age of twelve, Edison became hard of hearing. He left school because his teachers called him scatter-brained! (someone who can’t keep his or her thoughts on one subject for long). His mother had been a school teacher in Canada. She encouraged and taught him to read and do experiments.

Edison saved a boy called Jimmie Mackenzi from being run over by a runway train. Jimmie’s father was so grateful that he took Edison under his wing and trained him as a telegraph operator.

Edison's Youth
He married a 16-year-old girl called Mary Stilwell. They had three children.

Edison became a North-American inventor and business man and developed many devices which have influenced our lives. He applied the principles of mass production to the invention process. He created the first industrial research laboratory. However, above all, he is considered to be one of the most prolific inventors in history, holding 1,097 patents in North America and many patents in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

In 1871, he invented the “teleprinter” so stock-market news could be transmitted immediately. With the money he earned with this, he set up a research laboratory – he started earning a living out of his inventions.

Edison began his career as an inventor in New Jersey with the automatic repeater and other improved telegraphic devices. In 1877 Edison became known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park” due to the invention of the phonograph.

audio! Listen to Edison's voice external link
Transcript: “I am the Edison phonograph, created by the great wizard of the new world to delight those who would have the melody of the amused. I can sing you tender songs of love. I can give you merry tales of joy and laughter. I can transport you to the realms of music. I can call you to joy in the rhytmic band. ...” (Anyone feel like trying to transcribe the rest? Check out this virtual museum external link to find an animated movie showing how the phonograph worked.)

In 1878 Edison invented and developed the carbon microphone which is used in telephones and in radio broadcasting and public address system. He also developed the electric chair as a demonstration of alternating current’s (AC) which created a greater lethal potential against the direct current (DC). As a part of this campaign Edison’s employees electrocuted dogs, cats and an elephant to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current (AC). Nowadays, the alternating current is used to improve the efficiency of power distribution. High frequency AC (100.000 Hz) is used in medicine. DC has the advantage that batteries can mantain power through interruptions of the electric supply in elevators.

In the 1880s Thomas Edison lived next to Henry Ford, the automobile magnate/tycoon. They were friends until Edison’s death. Edison contributed to automobile technology.

Finally, in 1880 he invented the electric light bulb.

The Electric Bulb
Look at a picture of the first edison lamp external link

First of all, Edison formed the “Edison Electric Light Company” in New York City with financiers J.P. Morgan… He said: “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles”. He applied the term “filament” to the element consisting of a glowing wire which carried the current. As a result, he produced a high resistance lamp in a very high vacuum, which would burn for hundreds of hours.

Secondly, “Lifeexternal link magazine (USA) placed Edison first in the list of the 100 Most Important People in the 1000 last years, saying that his light bulb “Lit up the world”.

Finally, in 1940, his life was made into a film, “Edison, the Manexternal link, which Spencer Tracy starred as Edison. The movie starts with this sentence by Ralph Waldo Emerson external link (1803-1882): “The true test of civilization is, not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops, but the kind of man the country turns out”.

Audios: Listen to Edison!
audio! Around the world on the phonograph external link spoken by Edison, recorded in 1888!!! (the oldest recording of his voice)
audio! Electricity and Progress external link spoken by Edison, recorded in 1908!
audio! The Birth of the Telephone external link spoken by Edison, recorded in 1914

More Info: Edison, his life and inventions, by Frank Lewis Dyer, free downloadable book.