February 11, 1847
Born in: Milan, Ohio
Career: Inventor and Businessman
Death: October 18, 1931
Thomas Edison was an American inventor and businessman, who is known for his inventions till date. During the course of his life, he filed for and held as many as 1,093 U.S. patents in his name, apart from many others in United Kingdom, France and Germany. One of the most prolific inventors of the 19th century, he was once called "The Wizard of Menlo Park", by a newspaper reporter. Edison is credited to be one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production to the process of invention. This is the reason why the credit of developing the first industrial research laboratory goes to him.
Thomas Edison was born as ‘Thomas Alva Edison’ on 11th February 1847, in Milan, Ohio. He was the son of Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. and Nancy Matthews Edison, who were of Dutch origin. He was the youngest of his parents’ seven children. Edison had the habit of being involved too much in his thoughts, due to which his mind often wandered. On day, he overheard his teacher, calling him ‘addled’. This event made him leave official schooling, of which he had attended only three months, and get home-schooled by his mother. Later, he used to remark that it was her mother who made him believe in himself.
At a very tender age, Edison developed hearing problems, which ultimately resulted in deafness. In 1854, when the railroad bypassed Milan, his family was forced to move to Port Huron, Michigan, where he spent the majority of his childhood. He started selling candy and newspapers on the trains running from Port Huron to Detroit. Along with this, he also sold vegetables to supplement his income. This was just the beginning and one after the after, Edison started getting involved in entrepreneurial ventures and soon, discovered his excellent talents as a businessman.
Edison once saved a three-year-old boy, Jimmie MacKenzie, from being hit by a runaway train. Indebted to Edison for saving for son, station agent J.U. MacKenzie, of Mount Clemens, trained him as a telegraph operator. He got his first job, as a telegraph operator, at Stratford Junction, Ontario, on the Grand Trunk Railway. He moved to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1866 and started working as an employee of Western Union, for the Associated Press bureau news wire. Since he had managed to get the night shift, Edison indulged in reading and experimenting.
It was one of his experiments only that resulted in his expulsion from the job, in the year 1867. During this time, he met Franklin Leonard Pope, a fellow telegrapher and inventor, who allowed him to live and work in the basement of his home in New Jersey. Since Edison was very much involved in telegraphy in the initial years, even his earliest experiments were based on the same. For example, amongst his first invention was a stock ticker. Thereafter, he went to make other inventions. Edison got his first patent (US) for electric vote recorder, on June 1, 1869.
Edison’s career, as an inventor, started in New Jersey, when he invented automatic repeater and other improved telegraphic devices. During that time, he also set up the first industrial research lab, in Menlo Park, New Jersey. However, it was the invention of phonograph, in 1877, that made him famous as an inventor. The invention was so unexpected that soon, he was known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park". In 1877–1878, Edison invented and developed the carbon microphone that was used in telephones till 1980s, along with being a part of radio broadcasting and public address systems.
In 1878, Edison formed the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City, with financers including J. P. Morgan and members of Vanderbilt family. In November 1879, he filed a patent for an electric lamp, using "a carbon filament or strip coiled and connected to platina contact wires". The patent was granted much after Edison and his team had discovered a longer-lasting carbonized bamboo filament for the lamp. The year 1880 saw him patenting an electric distribution system and founding Edison Electric Illuminating Company, which set up the first investor-owned electric utility in 1882, on Pearl Street Station, New York City.
By 1887, there were 121 Edison power stations in the United States, delivering DC electricity to customers. Soon, the option of AC electricity started being suggested by George Westinghouse, which was fiercely opposed by Edison. With time, the DC system was replaced by AC. Though DC exists till date, it is only used in long-distance high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission systems. Edison is also credited with designing and producing the first commercially available fluoroscope. In 1891, he built a Kinetoscope, or peep-hole viewer, and received a patent for a two-way telegraph, the next year.
In 1901, Edison visited the Sudbury area, as a mining prospector, and discovered the Falconbridge ore body. After being unsuccessful in his mining attempts, he abandoned the mining claim, in 1903. In 1906, he purchased the house in which he was born, in Milan, Ohio. In 1908, Edison started the Motion Picture Patents Company. It was a conglomerate of nine major film studios, popularly known as the Edison Trust. Thomas Edison was the first honorary fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, founded in 1929. In 1931, he guided the Project of electric trains in suburban service, from Hoboken to Gladstone.
Thomas Edison was a man who made a great difference to the world, with his inventions. He left the world, for the holy abode, on 18th October 1931. He breathed his last in home, "Glenmont" in Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey. It was the same house he had purchased for his wife Mina, as a wedding gift, in 1886. It is said that Edison's last breath was captured in a test tube, which is kept at the Henry Ford Museum. Ford is believed to be the one who convinced Charles Edison to seal a test tube of air, in Thomas Edison’s room, shortly after his death, to keep as a memento.
Edison married Mary Stilwell, a 16-year-old girl whom he had met two months ago, on 25th December 1871. The couple has their first child, Marion Estelle Edison, in 1873. He was nicknamed "Dot" and lived till 1965. Three years later, in 1876, Mary gave birth to Thomas Alva Edison Jr., nicknamed "Dash", who died in 1935. Edison and Mary’s third and last child was William Leslie Edison (1878-1937). Six years after giving birth to William i.e. in 1884, Mary left for the holy abode. Later, Edison got married to 20-year-old Mina, daughter of inventor Lewis Miller. The marriage took place in Akron, Ohio, on 24th February 1886.
Edison had three children from this marriage also. The couple’s first child was a daughter - Madeleine Edison, who was born in 1888 and married John Eyre Sloane. She breathed her last in 1979. Charles Edison, the second child of Edison and Mary, was born in 1890. He was the one who took over Edison’s company, after his death. Charles died in 1969 ands was buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey. The youngest child of Edison was Theodore Miller Edison, who was born in 1898 and lived till 1992. As for Mina, she outlived Thomas Edison, dying on 24th August 1947.