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|Thomas Alva Edison|
The inventor who gave us the electric light bulb, the phonograph, the motion-picture camera, the microphone and a thousand other devices that improved life for humanity the world over was a hard-working, dedicated researcher. Learn about his life and his inventions in this unit.
Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio. He was the youngest of seven children born to Samuel Edison Jr. and Nancy Elliott Edison. When Thomas Edison started school, the schoolteacher considered the famous inventor to be a bit dull. After three months of schooling, one day the teacher called Thomas an "addled" (confused) student. Thomas hurried home and told his mother. When she went to the schoolhouse to talk to the teacher, they got into a heated discussion and the teacher told Mrs. Edison that Thomas was not teachable. Mrs. Edison promptly removed Thomas from the school and from then on he was homeschooled!
As a young child Thomas Edison began to lose his hearing. Eventually he became totally deaf in his left ear and had only 10% hearing in his right ear. Edison did not consider his loss of hearing a disadvantage but said it was actually an advantage to his style of work. He was able to concentrate deeply on his experiments since he was not distracted by noises or chatter while he was working.
His career began with a fascination for the telegraph. At the age of ten, young Thomas and a neighborhood friend built their own telegraph and used it to communicate with each other from house to house. In this way, Thomas taught himself to send and receive the complicated Morse code used in telegraphing.
When Thomas was 12 years old, he took a job selling papers on the train to Detroit. This gave him spending money and during the long layovers in Detroit he could buy chemicals and supplies for his experiments. He used to do experiments on the train when he had breaks from selling papers, but once some of his chemicals started a fire on the train and he had to stop.
One day when the train was stopped at a station, Thomas saw a young boy playing on the tracks. Suddenly an unmanned railroad car came rolling right at the boy. Thomas ran and pulled the child to safety-barely missing getting himself squashed too! The little boy turned out to be the station agent's son. The boy's father was so happy that he offered to train Thomas as a telegraph operator as a reward. This was a big breakthrough for Edison.
He got his first regular job as a telegraph operator at the age of sixteen at Stratford Junction in Canada. He liked to work nights so he could read and do experiments during the day. Though he never needed a lot of sleep he still often got tired late at night. The telegraph office required operators to send a signal every hour to prove they were awake. This led Thomas to invent the first automatic telegraph, a device that would send the signal for him every hour so he could sleep. He nearly lost his job when he was caught sleeping one night.
In 1868 Edison applied for his first patent on an invention, the "Electrical Vote Recorder"-a device designed to speed up the voting procedure in the legislature. Unfortunately, Congress did not want to use this invention. It counted votes too quickly and there would not be enough time for "filibustering" to take place-a delaying tactic that minority parties used to block unwanted legislation. Edison was crushed. He decided he would only invent products that were sure to be commercially successful. All he needed was to wait, however! Different versions of that same voting machine are used in state legislatures all around the U.S. today.
Edison built a laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, in 1876. This was the world's first scientifically organized industrial research laboratory, and it is considered to be one of his most important inventions. In this lab Edison and his staff were very productive. They sometimes worked on more than 40 projects at a time, and applied for as many as 400 patents in a year. In the Menlo Park lab Edison invented some of his most famous and useful devices-the carbon telephone transmitter, the phonograph, and the incandescent light bulb. He became known as the wizard of Menlo Park.
In 1887 Edison built a new laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. This lab was ten times bigger than the Menlo Park lab, and is now a national monument. The new lab complex had 14 buildings, six of which were devoted to inventing. Edison worked at this lab for another 40 years. He improved the phonograph so that it had commercial value and began producing phonographs for sale. He created the first movie camera and film reels. Later Edison connected a phonograph and made the first talking movie! He also invented the dictating machine, the cement mixer, the microphone, and a magnetic process to separate iron ore. And after laboriously testing over 17,000 different plant species, Edison came up with a new synthetic rubber.
During World War I, Edison turned his efforts to helping improve the military. Working without pay, he helped invent a sonar system to detect submarines and torpedoes, and also invented an electric torpedo. At Edison's urging, Congress established the first military research laboratory in 1920.
Edison believed in hard work. He is known for his focus and determination, and for regularly working 100 or more hours in a week. One of his favorite sayings was, "Genius is one percent inspiration, and 99 percent perspiration." He also believed in the importance of making science practical and useful to people. Edison invented well over a thousand devices that improved life for humanity the world over.
Thomas Alva Edison died on October 20, 1931, at the age of 84.
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|Last Updated on Monday, 20 February 2012 19:09|