Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison is one of the greatest American inventors who held countless patents, majority of them related to electricity and power. While two of his most famous inventions are the incandescent lamp and the phonograph, arguably the most significant invention of Edison is considered to be organized research.


Early Life:

Edison was born on February 11, 1847 in the historic city of Milan (Ohio). His father was a versatile person and a man-of-all-work, while his mother was a teacher. Edison was mostly homeschooled by his mother. Edison became a salesman of fruit, paper and other goods on the Grand Trunk Railroad at a tender age of 12. With the help of his tiny handpress in a trash car, he wrote and published the Grand Trunk Herald in 1862, which was sent to 400 railroad employees. The same year Edison worked as a telegraph operator, trained by the father of a kid whose life he had saved. Edison was a tramp telegrapher, as he was exempted from military service due to his deafness. He was recruited in 1868 by Western Union Telegraph Company in Boston.

Early Conceptions:

Perhaps the first invention of Edison was a telegraph repeater in 1864 which worked automatically, while his earliest patent was registered for an electric vote recorder. He acquired partnership in a New York electrical company in 1869, where he honed the stock ticker and sold it. With all his money, Edison paid for his own factory in Newark, N.J., where he hired technicians to help him with the inventions. His dream was to create an “invention factory.” Almost 80 “earnest men,” including physicists, mathematicians and chemists, were among his collaborators. “Invention to order” made him good money at this place.

From 1870 to 1875 Edison devised many telegraphic advances including receivers, transmitters, the duplex, tape and automatic printers. He also collaborated in 1871 with Christopher Sholes, also known as “father of the typewriter,” to ameliorate the typing machine. Edison claimed to have made twelve typewriters at Newark in 1870. As a result, the Remington Company purchased his interests.

Edison’s carbon telegraph transmitter for Western Union brought a breakthrough for the creation of the Bell telephone. The money he got from Western Union for the transmitter was spent to establish a factory in Menlo Park, N.J. One more time, he used scientific talent to register over 300 patents in only 6 years. His electric pen (1877) developed stencils to produce copies.

Other Inventions and Contributions:

Probably his most impressive invention, the phonograph, was patented in 1877. By 1890 Edison had about 80 patents under his name, and that was pretty much the reason The Victor Company came into being.

To explore incandescence, Edison and his fellows, among them J. P. Morgan, developed the Edison Electric Light Company in 1878. Years later, the company became the General Electric Company. Edison invented the first practical incandescent lamp in 1879. With months of hard work researching metal filaments, Edison and his staff analyzed 6,000 organic fibers around the world and determined that the Japanese bamboo was ideal for mass production. Large scale production of these cheap lamps turned out to be profitable, hence the first fluorescent lamp was patented in 1896.

Edison made an amazing discovery in pure science, termed as the Edison Effect. He discovered in 1883 that electrons flowed from incandescent filaments. The lamp could function as a valve using a metal-plate insert, while taking only negative electricity. A method to transmit telegraphic “aerial” signals over short distances was patented by Edison in 1885. The “wireless” patent was later sold to Guglielmo Marconi.

The huge West Orange, N.J., factory was supervised from 1887 to 1931 by Edison. This was probably the world’s most cutting-edge research laboratory, and a forerunner to modern research and development laboratories, with experts systematically investigating and researching for the solution of problems.

The Edison battery, made perfect in 1910, used an alkaline electrolyte, and proved to be a superb storage device. The copper oxide battery, strikingly similar to modern dry cells, was modified in 1902.

The kinetograph, his motion picture camera, was able to photograph action on 50-foot strips of film, and produced about sixteen images per foot. A young assistant of Edison built a small laboratory in 1893 called the “Black Maria,” which was substantial in making the first Edison movies. The kinetoscope projector of 1893 finally displayed the films. The earliest commercial movie theater, a peepshow, was established in New York in 1884. After developing and modifying the projector of Thomas Armat in 1895, Edison commercialized it as the “Vitascope”.

The Edison Company created over 1,700 movies. Edison set the benchmark for talking pictures in 1904 by synchronizing movies with the phonograph. His cinemaphone adjusted the film speed to phonograph speed. The kinetophone projected talking pictures in 1913. The phonograph, behind the screen, was synchronized by pulleys and ropes with the projector. Edison brought forth many “talkies.”

The universal motor, which utilized alternating or direct current, appeared in 1907. The electric safety lantern, patented in 1914, significantly reduced casualties among miners. The same year Edison devised the telescribe, which unified characteristics of the telephone and dictating phonograph.

Services for the Government:

Edison presided the U.S. Navy Consulting Board throughout World War I and made 45 more inventions. These inventions included substitutes for antecedently imported chemicals (such as carbolic acid), a ship-telephone system, an underwater searchlight, defensive instruments against U-boats, among others. Later on, Edison launched the Naval Research Laboratory, the eminent American institution for research involving organized weapons.


This multi-genius died on Oct. 18, 1931 in West Orange, N.J. The laboratory buildings and equipment affiliated with Edison were upheld in Greenfield Village, Detroit, Michigan by Henry Ford, a friend and admirer.