Today is the 174th birthday of the inventor Thomas Edison. If you are able to read this, you owe him some grattitude. You will use the great-grandchildren of his inventions every day. The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.
NAME: Thomas Edison
BIRTH DATE: February 11, 1847
DEATH DATE: October 18, 1931
EDUCATION: The Cooper Union
PLACE OF BIRTH: Milan, Ohio
PLACE OF DEATH: West Orange, New Jersey
Father: Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. (lighthouse keeper, b. 16-Aug-1804, d. 26-Feb-1896)
Mother: Nancy Mathews Elliott Edison (b. 4-Jan-1810, m. 12-Sep-1828, d. 9-Apr-1871)
Sister: Marion Wallace Edison Page (b. 15-Sep-1829, d. 1-Feb-1900)
Brother: William Pitt Edison (street railway operator, b. 5-Nov-1831, d. 1891)
Sister: Harriett Ann Edison Bailey (“Tannie”, b. 23-May-1833, d. 3-Mar-1863)
Brother: Carlisle Edison (b. 8-Jan-1836, d. 14-Feb-1842)
Brother: Samuel Ogden Edison III (b. 5-Mar-1840, d. 17-Jul-1843)
Sister: Eliza Edison (b. 19-May-1844, d. 18-Dec-1847)
Mother: Mary Sharlow Edison (stepmother, maid, b. circa 1855, m. Edison’s father 1871)
Wife: Mary Stilwell Edison (b. 6-Sep-1855, m. 25-Dec-1871, d. 9-Aug-1884, one daughter, two sons)
Daughter: Marion Estelle Edison Oeser (“Dot”, b. 18-Feb-1873, d. 16-Apr-1965)
Son: Thomas Alva Edison, Jr. (“Dash”, farmer, b. 10-Jan-1876, d. 25-Aug-1935)
Son: William Leslie Edison (farmer, b. 26-Oct-1878, d. 10-Aug-1937 cancer)
Wife: Mina Miller Edison Hughes (b. 6-Jul-1865, m. 24-Feb-1886, until his death, d. 24-Aug-1947, one daughter, two sons)
Daughter: Madeleine Edison Sloane (b. 31-May-1888, d. 14-Feb-1979)
Son: Charles Edison (42nd Governor of New Jersey, b. 3-Aug-1890, d. 31-Jul-1969)
Son: Theodore Miller Edison (Thomas A. Edison Inc executive, b. 10-Jul-1898, d. 24-Nov-1992)
Consolidated Edison Founder, Edison Illuminating Company (1880)
Science Co-Founder (1880)
General Electric Founder, Edison Electric Light Company (1878)
Gold & Stock Telegraph Company Superintendent (1869)
Western Union Telegraph operator (1868-69)
(various employers) Telegraph operator (1863-68)
Canadian National Railway (Grand Trunk Railway) Train-boy (1859-63)
Acoustical Society of America Honorary
American Society of Mechanical Engineers Honorary
National Telegraphic Union 1863
Civitan Club Fort Meyers (1928)
National Academy of Sciences
Matteucci Medal 1887
Rumford Prize 1895
Congressional Gold Medal 29-May-1928
National Inventors Hall of Fame
French Legion of Honor 1881
Hollywood Walk of Fame Hollywood Blvd. @ N Las Palmas Ave. (motion pictures)
National Inventors Hall of Fame 1973
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.
Arguably the most successful inventor in human history, Thomas Edison held 1,093 U.S. patents, and hundreds more in other nations. His most famous work includes the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, the alkaline storage battery, and a forerunner of the motion picture projector.
His father, Samuel Edison, Jr., was involved in the Mackenzie Rebellion against the government of Ottawa in 1837, after which the family was exiled to America. As a boy, Edison suffered from dyslexia and had problems with his hearing which grew worse over time, leaving him almost completely deaf by adulthood. He attended public schools for only about three months before a teacher told Edison’s mother that the boy was “addled.” She responded by withdrawing him from school to educate him herself. By the age of ten he had constructed a chemistry laboratory in the basement of his family’s home, and at about the age of eleven, fearing that she had taught him all she could, his mother signed him up for a local library card. He began reading every book on the shelves, soon pointing out what he perceived as problems with Isaac Newton’s Principia.
With his education deemed complete he began working for the railroad as a newsboy and candy seller at 12, and four years later he became an apprentice telegraph operator. Over the next several years he made slight but clever improvements to telegraph technology without filing any patents. His first “official” invention was a vote recording machine, patented in 1869. After a brief entrepreneurial partnership with New York electrician Frank Pope, designing a stock ticker and a duplex telegraph (capable of transmitting multiple messages concurrently), he worked as a freelance inventor and consultant for several years, mostly in the telegraph industry. He was a wealthy man after 1874, when millionaire Jay Gould paid the then-staggering sum of $100,000 for rights to Edison’s quadruplex (a machine capable of sending up to four telegraphs concurrently).
He opened his famed laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, in 1876. The following year he invented the carbon-button transmitter (carbon microphone, which became a key component for generations of telephones) and showed the prototype for the phonograph, originally called the speaking and singing machine. With financial backing from J. Pierpont Morgan and the Vanderbilt family he launched the Edison Electric Light Company (now General Electric) in 1878, and the Edison Illuminating Company (now Consolidated Edison) in 1880. The following year he demonstrated the first practical incandescent light bulb, which provided illumination for 40 hours. In 1882, Edison’s firm constructed the first commercial power system, serving lower Manhattan. In 1885 he personally supervised the electrical design and wiring of the Lyceum Theatre in New York, the first stage on Broadway lit entirely by electricity. In 1901 he invented the alkaline storage battery.
Edison’s employee, William K. L. Dickson, invented the kinetograph (an early device for making motion pictures) in 1891, and Edison invented the kinetoscope (a movie viewing system) in the same year, with a patent describing motion picture film with a width of 35 millimeters, which remains the industry standard. The landmark short The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, a one-minute recreation of the monarch’s beheading, was made at Edison Labs in 1895, and a former employee of Edison’s, Edwin Stanton Porter, directed the first action movie, The Great Train Robbery, in 1903. Edison’s other noteworthy employees included streetcar pioneer Frank J. Sprague and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla.
Edison’s direct-current (DC) system of electricity was challenged by Tesla and George Westinghouse’s alternating-current (AC) system, and for several years these men and their companies were fierce competitors. Edison assigned his then-employee Arthur E. Kennelly to develop an electric chair using the rival AC system, hoping to help establish the perils of AC in the public’s mind. Edison’s public relations team tried to convince newspapers to call their electric chair the “Westinghouse chair”, and refer to executions as being “Westinghoused”. In a staged and filmed event in 1903 Edison’s camera crew further demonstrated AC’s danger by electrocuting an elephant.
Like his friend Henry Ford, Edison was virulently anti-Semitic and blamed Jews for all of the world’s major problems. Remembering his time as a telegraph operator, his first daughter was nicknamed “Dot” and his eldest son was called “Dash.” Another of his sons, Charles Edison, was Governor of New Jersey from 1941-44. In adulthood “Dash”, aka Thomas Edison, Jr., sold his name to endorse patent medicines, becoming such an embarrassment to his father that the elder Edison asked his son to stop using the family name, and for a time the younger Edison lived as Thomas Willard.