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Thomas Edison 1847-1931

One of the most famous and prolific inventors of all time, Thomas Alva Edison exerted a tremendous influence on modern life, contributing inventions such as the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera, as well as improving the telegraph and telephone. In his 84 years, he acquired an astounding 1,093 patents. Aside from being an inventor, Edison also managed to become a successful manufacturer and businessman, marketing his inventions to the public.

Edison was a poor student. When a schoolmaster called Edison "addled," his furious mother took him out of the school and proceeded to teach him at home. At an early age, he showed a fascination for mechanical things and for chemical experiments. In 1859, Edison took a job selling newspapers and candy on the Grand Trunk Railroad to Detroit. In the baggage car, he set up a laboratory for his chemistry experiments and a printing press, where he started the Grand Trunk Herald, the first newspaper published on a train. An accidental fire forced him to stop his experiments on board. Around the age of twelve, Edison lost almost all his hearing. however, and often treated it as an asset, since it made it easier for him to concentrate on his experiments and research. In 1862, Edison rescued a three-year-old from a track where a boxcar was about to roll into him. The grateful father, J.U. MacKenzie, taught Edison railroad telegraphy as a reward. Besides other telegraph inventions, he also developed an electric pen in 1875. Edison opened a new laboratory in Menlo Park, NJ, in 1876. This site later become known as an "invention factory," since they worked on several different inventions at any given time there. Edison would conduct numerous experiments to find answers to problems. He said, "I never quit until I get what I'm after. Negative results are just what I'm after. They are just as valuable to me as positive results."(2) Edison liked to work long hours and expected much from his employees. Edison's experiments with the telephone and the telegraph led to his invention of the phonograph in 1877. Edison focused on the electric light system in 1878, setting aside the phonograph for almost a decade. Edison set up an electric light factory in East Newark in 1881,In order to prove its viability, the first commercial electric light system was installed on Pearl Street in the financial district of Lower Manhattan in 1882. Another Edison interest was an ore-milling process that would extract various metals from ore. Edison also became involved in promoting the use of cement and formed the Edison Portland Cement Co. in 1899. In 1913, Edison experimented with synchronizing sound to film. A Kinetophone was developed by his laboratory which synchronized sound on a phonograph cylinder to the picture on a screen. Although this initially brought interest, the system was far from perfect and disappeared by 1915. By 1918, Edison ended his involvement in the motion picture field. When Europe became involved in World War I, Edison advised preparedness, and felt that technology would be the future of war. He was named head of the Naval Consulting Board in 1915, an attempt by the government to bring science into its defense program. Henry Ford, an admirer and friend of Edison's, reconstructed Edison's invention factory as a museum at Greenfield Village, Michigan. He died on October 18, 1931, at his estate, Glenmont, in West Orange, New Jersey.


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