Thomas Alva Edison, quadruplex telegraph , creating a complete system for the generation and distribution of electricity.
THOMAS ALVA EDISON, quadruplex telegraph , creating a complete system for the generation and distribution of electricity.
Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) was an American inventor and businessman who developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph and a long lasting light bulb. Dubbed “The Wizard of Menlo Park” by a newspaper reporter, he was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production to the process of invention, and therefore is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.
Edison is considered one of the most prolific inventors in history, holding 1,093 U.S. patents in his name, as well as many patents in the United Kingdom, France and Germany.
Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, and was raised in Port Huron, Michigan. He was the seventh and last child of Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. (1804–1896) (born in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, Canada) and Nancy Matthews Edison nee Elliott (1810–1871). His family was of Dutch origin.
Thomas Edison as a boy.
In school, the young Edison’s mind often wandered, and his teacher, the Reverend Engle, was overheard calling him “addled.” This ended Edison’s three months of official schooling. He recalled later, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.” His mother then home schooled him. Much of his education came from reading R.G. Parker’s School of Natural Philosophy and The Cooper Union.
Edison developed hearing problems at an early age. The cause of Edison’s deafness has been attributed to a bout of scarlet fever during childhood and recurring untreated middle ear infections. Around the middle of his career Edison attributed the hearing loss to being struck on the ears by a train conductor when his chemical lab in a boxcar caught fire, and was thrown off the train in Smiths Creek, Michigan, along with his apparatus and chemicals. In his later years he modified the story to say the injury occurred when the conductor, in helping him onto a moving train, lifted him by the ears.
Edison’s family was forced to move to Port Huron, Michigan, when the railroad bypassed Milan in 1854, but his life there was bittersweet. He sold candy and newspapers on trains running from Port Huron to Detroit, as well as vegetables that he sold to supplement his income. This began Edison’s long streak of entrepreneurial ventures as he discovered his talents as a businessman. These talents would eventually lead him to found General Electric, which is still a publicly traded company, and 13 other companies.
Edison became a telegraph operator after he saved three-year-old Jimmie MacKenzie from being struck by a runaway train. Jimmie’s father, station agent J.U. MacKenzie of Mount Clemens, Michigan, was so grateful that he trained Edison as a telegraph operator. Edison’s first telegraphy job away from Port Huron was at Stratford Junction, Ontario, on the Grand Trunk Railway. In 1866, at the age of 19, Thomas Edison moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where as an employee of Western Union he worked the Associated Press bureau news wire. Edison requested the night shift at work which allowed him plenty of time to spend at his two favorite pastimes — reading and experimenting. Eventually, the latter pre-occupation cost him his job. One night in 1867, he was working with a battery when he spilled sulphuric acid onto the floor. It ran between the floorboards and onto his boss’ desk below. The next morning he was fired.
One of his mentors during those early years was a fellow telegrapher and inventor named Franklin Leonard Pope, who allowed the impoverished youth to live and work in the basement of his Elizabeth, New Jersey, home.
Some of Edison’s earliest inventions were related to telegraphy, including a stock ticker. His first patent was for the electric vote recorder, (U. S. Patent 90,646),which was granted on June 1, 1869.
Marriages and children
On December 25, 1871, at the age of 24, Edison married 16-year-old Mary Stilwell, whom he had met two months earlier. They had three children:
* Marion Estelle Edison (1873–1965), nicknamed “Dot”
* Thomas Alva Edison Jr. (1876–1935), nicknamed “Dash”
* William Leslie Edison (1878–1937)
Mary Edison died on August 9, 1884.
On February 24, 1886, at the age of 39, Edison married 20-year-old Mina Miller in Akron, Ohio. She was the daughter of inventor Lewis Miller, co-founder of the Chautauqua Institution and a benefactor of Methodist charities. They also had three children:
* Madeleine Edison (1888–1979), who married John Eyre Sloane
* Charles Edison (1890–1969), who took over the company upon his father’s death and who later was elected Governor of New Jersey He is buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey.
* Theodore Miller Edison (1898–1992).
Mina outlived Thomas Edison, dying on August 24, 1947.
Beginning his career
Photograph of Edison with his phonograph, taken by Mathew Brady in 1877.
Thomas Edison began his career as an inventor in Newark, New Jersey, with the automatic repeater and his other improved telegraphic devices, but the invention which first gained him fame was the phonograph in 1877. This accomplishment was so unexpected by the public at large as to appear almost magical. Edison became known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” New Jersey, where he lived. His first phonograph recorded on tinfoil around a grooved cylinder and had poor sound quality. The tinfoil recordings could only be replayed a few times. In the 1880s, a redesigned model using wax-coated cardboard cylinders was produced by Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell, and Charles Tainter. This was one reason that Thomas Edison continued work on his own “Perfected Phonograph.”
Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory, removed to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. (Note the organ against the back wall)
Thomas Edison’s first successful light bulb model, used in public demonstration at Menlo Park, December 1879.
U.S. Patent #223898 Electric Lamp
Edison’s major innovation was the first industrial research lab, which was built in Menlo Park, New Jersey. It was the first institution set up with the specific purpose of producing constant technological innovation and improvement. Edison was legally attributed with most of the inventions produced there, though many employees carried out research and development work under his direction. His staff was generally told to carry out his directions in conducting research, and he drove them hard to produce results. The large research group, which included engineers and other workers, based much of their research on work done by others before them.
William J. Hammer, a consulting electrical engineer, began his duties as a laboratory assistant to Edison in December 1879. He assisted in experiments on the telephone, phonograph, electric railway, iron ore separator, electric lighting, and other developing inventions. However, Hammer worked primarily on the incandescent electric lamp and was put in charge of tests and records on that device. In 1880, he was appointed chief engineer of the Edison Lamp Works. In his first year, the plant under General Manager Francis Robbins Upton turned out 50,000 lamps. According to Edison, Hammer was “a pioneer of incandescent electric lighting.”
Nearly all of Edison’s patents were utility patents, which were protected for a 17 year period and included inventions or processes that are electrical, mechanical, or chemical in nature. About a dozen were design patents, which protect an ornamental design for up to a 14 year period. Like most patents, the inventions he described were improvements over prior art. The phonograph patent, on the other hand, was unprecedented as the first device to record and reproduce sounds. Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, but instead invented the first commercially practical incandescent light. Several designs had already been developed by earlier inventors including the patent he purchased from Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans, Moses G. Farmer, Joseph Swan, James Bowman Lindsay, William E. Sawyer, Sir Humphry Davy, and Heinrich Göbel. Some of these early bulbs had such flaws as extremely short life, high expense to produce, and high current draw, making them difficult to apply on a large scale commercially. In 1878, Edison applied the term filament to the element of glowing wire carrying the current, although English inventor Joseph Swan had used the term prior to this. Edison took the features of these earlier designs and set his workers to the task of creating longer-lasting bulbs. By 1879, he had produced a new concept: a high resistance lamp in a very high vacuum, which would burn for hundreds of hours. While the earlier inventors had produced electric lighting in laboratory conditions, dating back to a demonstration of a glowing wire by Alessandro Volta in 1800, Edison concentrated on commercial application, and was able to sell the concept to homes and businesses by mass-producing relatively long-lasting light bulbs and creating a complete system for the generation and distribution of electricity.
The Menlo Park research lab was made possible by the sale of the quadruplex telegraph that Edison invented in 1874, which could send four simultaneous telegraph signals over the same wire. When Edison asked Western Union to make an offer, he was shocked at the unexpectedly large amount that Western Union offered; the patent rights were sold for $10,000. The quadruplex telegraph was Edison’s first big financial success.