Childhood & Early Life
Born to Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr and Nancy Matthews Elliott, Thomas Edison was the youngest of the seven children of the couple. While his father was an exiled political activist, his mother was employed as a teacher.
Interestingly, young Edison received his formal education for just about 12 weeks. Thereafter, it was his mother who took the responsibility of teaching him at home. A voracious reader, he read a wide range of subjects and soon developed the habit of self-education.
Since an early age, he had developed hearing difficulties which increased with age and by the middle years he was almost deaf. Scarlet fever is attributed to be the cause of this deafness.
During his early years, he sold newspapers to passengers travelling along the Grand Trunk Railroad line. The access to up-to-date information led him to start off his own newspaper, Grand Trunk Herald, which became quite a hit with the masses. Also, it was his first of the many more to come business ventures.
In addition to selling newspapers, he set up a small laboratory and conducted chemical experiments in one of the baggage cars of the train. Unfortunately, one experiment went wrong and resulted in the car catching fire. This temporarily ended his pursuits.
A good deed of saving the life of an infant from a near-tragic incident changed his life forever. The indebted dad of the child trained him as a telegraph operator. He found his first job at Stratford Junction, Ontario.
He travelled all through the Midwest, working for various companies, before finding a job with the Associated Press bureau news wire. However, he was soon fired due to conducting experiments during working hours.
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He moved to New York, where he began his career as an inventor. One of his earliest inventions was a stock ticker. Impressed by the working of the machine, the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company offered him $40,000 for the rights. In 1869, he patented the electric vote recorder, his first in a long list to follow.
He then relocated to Newark, New Jersey, where he set up a small laboratory and employed machinist. The decade of 1870s was devoted to conducting experiments on the telephone, phonograph, electric railway, iron ore separator, electric lighting, and other developing inventions.
He expanded his operation and moved to Menlo Park, New Jersey. The one invention that brought him his first round of fame and catapulted his status to greater heights was the phonograph, invented in 1877. The device assisted in recording sound but had loopholes due to which he continued to work on it until the next decade when the ‘Perfected Phonograph’ was finally made available.
The financial gain from selling the quadruplex telegraph to Western Union not only helped him achieve his first monetary success, but assisted him in setting up the laboratory of Menlo Park for achieving greater technological advancements and innovation.
In 1877, he invented the carbon microphone used in telephones, radio broadcasting and public address works.
Moving further, he worked on electric bulb, which had been the object of study of various inventors earlier. He is credited with inventing the first commercially practical incandescent light, devoid of all the flaws that the earlier invented bulbs possessed.
In 1878, he formed the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City. The following year, he demonstrated his incandescent light bulb for the first time. The first commercial application of the bulb was in Columbia, the new streamer of Oregon railroad and Navigation Company.
In 1880, after attaining the patent for the light bulb, he founded the Edison Illuminating Company, with a motive of delivering electricity to provide power and light the cities of the world.
The company’s first investor owned electric utility was set up at Pearl Street Station. The unit was involved with generating 110 volts direct current to 59 customers. In 1883, Roselle, New Jersey, witnessed the first standardized incandescent electric lighting system employing overhead wires.
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By 1887, there were about 121 power stations established by the US that delivered electricity to customers. The other inventions that he worked upon during this time were fluoroscopy, two-way telegraph, kinetoscope, and so on.
He then initiated an industrial research laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, which formed the base of the primary research laboratory for the Edison lighting companies.
It was at the laboratory in West Orange that he worked on the development of the lighting technology, perfected the phonograph, developed motion picture camera and established the alkaline storage battery.
At the turn of the century, he soon transformed himself from being an inventor to an industrialist and business manager. The key work that he indulged in during this time was developing a suitable storage battery that could power an electric car.
The first designed self-starter battery was for Model T for Henry Ford, a friend and admirer. The invention was a grand success and was extensively used until decades later by the automobile industry.
He was made the head of the Naval Consulting Board during World War I. A profound advocator of non-violence, he indulged in projects that basically designed defensive weapons, such as submarine detectors and gun-location techniques.
His last patent, which was his 1093rd US patent, was an apparatus for holding objects during the electroplating process
Awards & Achievements
He was felicitated with numerous medals and awards for his magnanimous contribution to mankind. Some amongst them include, being distinguished with the 'Officer of the Legion of Honour’ by France, Distinguished Service Medal by US Navy and Congressional Gold Medal by the US.
He was inducted in New Jersey Hall of Fame and Entrepreneur Walk of Fame. He was made the honourable member of several important institutions including Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's fair and the National Academy of Sciences.
He received various medals including John Scott Medal, Edward Longstreth Medal, John Fritz Medal, Franklin Medal andEdison Medal. His birthday is marked as National Inventor's Day
Personal Life & Legacy
He married twice in his lifetime. His first marriage was to Mary Stilwell in 1871, who bore him three children. After the tragic death of his wife in 1884, he tied the knot for the second time two years to Mina Miller. The couple had three children.
He breathed his last on October 18, 1931 after suffering from complications of diabetes. He was buried behind his home in Glenmont, West Orange, New Jersey.
His death was mourned by people across the globe, who dimmed or turned off their electrical power to commemorate his death.
To pay a tribute to the contributions made by this illustrious inventor, several schools, colleges, institutions, museums, memorials, parks, buildings and bridges have been named after him. Out of these, the most notable is the town of Edison, New Jersey which bears his name.