Thomas Edison was
granted 1,093 patents for his inventions the most ever issued to an inventor in the
United States. He is most famous for inventing the light bulb but his very first patent
was for a vote-recording machine that in the end, nobody would purchase. After that,
Edison decided he would only work on inventions people wanted. He brought the world the
motion picture camera, the phonograph and the alkaline electric battery to name just a
THOMAS EDISON was born in Milan, Ohio, on Feb.
11, 1847. He was raised in Ohio and Michigan. At age seven, after spending only three
months in the classroom, Edison's teacher and principal decided that, because of his
constant questioning about how everything worked, he was "retarded." His mother
strongly disagreed and took him out of school to begin teaching him herself.
At age 12, Edison went to work selling
newspapers, snacks and candy on the railroad. He often spent his free time experimenting
with chemicals. One day, he accidentally set the baggage car on fire. After that, he was
only allowed to sell papers at railroad stations.
One day, the stationmaster's child wandered onto
the tracks in front of an oncoming boxcar. Edison leaped onto the tracks and pulled the
boy to safety. As a reward, the boy's father taught Edison Morse code and the basics of
the telegraph. It would be the start of Edisons long career inventing better ways to
communicate and improving day-to-day life for all people.
During the Civil War (1861-1865), Edison worked
as a replacement for one of the thousands of telegraph operators who had become soldiers.
Edison left home and did a lot of traveling after
the war. Meanwhile, he worked in the telegraph offices of several cities throughout the
In 1868, he left his job in Richmond, Virginia
and moved to Boston where he became a telegrapher with the Western Union Co.
That same year, he patented his first invention,
an electric vote-recording machine. He wanted to sell it to politicians but they did not
want such a quick record of the vote. After that, Edison focused his attention on
inventing things he was sure people would want to buy.
In 1869, he moved to New York City, where he
worked as a technician and made several improvements on the stock-ticker. He was surprised
when a corporation offered him $40,000 for its patent rights.
Edison married Mary Stilwell in 1871 on Christmas
Day and true to his intense work ethic, returned to his laboratory after the ceremony to
continue working on a stock ticker. He often slept in his lab and would work on inventions
for days at a time without leaving his lab.
In 1872, Edisons first daughter was born and
was nicknamed Dot after the Morse Code. When his first son was born in 1876, his
nickname was Dash so Edison now had a Dot and a Dash at home as well as
Edison opened his own laboratory in 1875 in
Newark, N.J., with the profits he received from the sale of a company that held several of
His next major invention was the carbon
transmitter, which finally made Alexander Graham Bell's telephone practical for public
In 1876, Edison moved his laboratory to Menlo
Park, N.J., where he invented the first phonograph in 1877 and the model of the first
electric light bulb in 1879. These inventions, along with several others, earned him the
reputations of "the wizard of Menlo Park" and the "father of the electrical
In 1887, Edison set up the world's first research
and development laboratory in West Orange, N.J. By 1888, the operation contained the
largest scientific testing laboratory in the world.
By the late 1880s, Edison was involved in
developing the first silent motion pictures. And by 1912, he was experimenting with
During this period, he also invented and
developed the first storage battery that was considered "practical." He also
invented a dictaphone and mimeograph machine.
Many consider Edison's most important
contribution to the world to be the invention of the first system of creating and
distributing light from a central source. This made electric light and power affordable to
all classes of people.
In 1892, his Edison General Electric Co. merged
with another firm to become the General Electric Company (GE), now a worldwide company
producing medical equipment, home appliances, light bulbs and airplane engines as well as
a host of other products. GE also owns the NBC television network.
During World War I, Edison conducted research for
the U.S. military on such items as the submarine and the periscope.
During the 1930's, Henry Ford moved Edison's
original Menlo Park laboratory to the Greenfield Village museum in Dearborn, Mich., where
it can still be seen today. His laboratory and home in West Orange, N.J., were made a
national historic site in 1962.