Illuminating the Path of Progress


Illuminating the Path of Progress

Thomas Alva Edison is the most famous inventor in American History. Edison designed, built, and delivered the electrical age. He started a revolution that would refocus technology, change life patterns, and create millions of jobs. He became famous for his scientific inventions, even though he was not a scientist. His real talent was his ability to clearly judge a problem and be persistent in experimenting. He was the master of the trial and error method.
Thomas Edison was born on February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio. He was the last of seven children born to Samuel and Nancy Edison. Edison\'s early life was spent in Ohio near the nation\'s busiest grain port. He spent time exploring the canal and played near his father\'s shingle business.
When Alva was a child, he had scarlet fever. The fever damaged his hearing and delayed his entrance into school. Edison was curious about the world around him and always tried to teach himself through reading and experiments. Alva spent three years in home schooling. He was taught by his mother. He later returned to school but left at age twelve to get a job and help support his family.
Edison got his first job selling newspapers and snacks to the passengers on the train between Port Huron and Detroit. Edison bought a used printing press in 1862 and published the Grand Trunk Herald for passengers. It was the first newspaper published on a train.
When Edison was fifteen, he was taught Morse code and became a manager of a telegraph office. Edison got the idea for his first invention from working here. His first inventions were the transmitter and receiver for the automatic telegraph. At 21, Edison produced his first major invention, a stock ticker. In 1869, when Edison was twenty-two, he patented his first invention
and advertised that he would devote his time to bringing out his inventions. The first patent received by Edison was for a vote recorder. Years later Edison\'s design was put in use by state legislatures for use by the public in general elections. By the age of twenty-three Edison owned two factories to manufacture telegraphic equipment and had money to pursue his research.
On December 25, 1871, Edison married Mary Stilwell. They had three children. Two of his children were nicknamed Dot and Dash after the Morse code.
In 1880 Edison made a discovery in science. He noticed that when a metal plate was inserted into a light bulb, the plate became a valve and the current could be controlled. This discovery is known as the "Edison Effect." It is the basis for the whole field of electronics. Edison did not pursue this field.
Edison grew tired of the manufacturing side of business and wanted to devote his time to experimenting on new inventions. He moved the laboratory to Menlo Park, N.J., where he directed groups of employees working on various projects. The move to Menlo Park was an important turning point for Edison. He was devoted to improving and inventing useful products. In 1877, inspired by the work he had done on improving Bell\'s telephone, Edison pursued the idea of not only transmitting speech but recording it. The result was the phonograph. This was the invention Edison was most proud of. Invented in 1877, it used tinfoil and wax cylinders to record the sound. He demonstrated his phonograph for the National Academy of Sciences and to President Rutherford B. Hayes.
After Edison conquered sound, he set out to produce electric lighting that would be cheap, safe and reliable. It took Edison just over a year to invent a practical light bulb. One of his bulbs burned for 1,589 hours. He gave a public demonstration of his lighting system by lighting the town of Menlo Park. He later established the Edison Electric Light Company. This would own all of Edison\'s electrical inventions. Then came the challenge of creating a system for distributing electric power over a wide area from a central generating station. Edison applied for nearly 40 patents to cover the devices he invented for his electricity distribution system. Later that year, New York\'s first power station was opened. By the end of 1883, Pearl Street was lighting 10,000 lamps