One of the outstanding geniuses in the history of technology, Thomas Edison earned patents for more than a thousand inventions, including the incandescent electric lamp, the phonograph, the carbon telephone transmitter, and the motion-picture projector. In addition, he created the world's first industrial research laboratory.
Edison was born in Milan, Ohio on February 11, 1847. By the time he was 10, he had set up a small chemical laboratory in the cellar of his home after his mother gave him an elementary physical science book. He was curious in the study of chemistry and the production of electrical current from voltaic jars and soon operated a homemade telegraph set.
In 1868 he obtained a vocation in Boston as an night operator for Western Union Telegraph Company; by day he slept little, however, for he was gripped by a passion for manipulating electrical currents in new ways. Borrowing a small sum from an acquaintance, he gave up his job in the autumn of 1868 and became a free-lance inventor, taking out his first patent for an electrical vote recorder.
In the summer of 1869 he was in New York. At a moment of crisis on the Gold Exchange caused by the breakdown of the office's new telegraphic gold-price indicator, Edison was called in to try to repair the instrument and was given a job as its supervisor. Soon he had remodeled the erratic machine so well that its owners, the Western Union Telegraph Company, paid him to improve the unsophisticated stock ticker just coming into use.
The result was the Edison Universal Stock Printer, which, together with several other derivatives of the Morse telegraph, brought him a sudden fortune of $40,000. With this capital he set himself up as a manufacturer in Newark, New Jersey, producing stock tickers and high-speed printing telegraphs.
In 1876 Edison gave up the Newark factory altogether and moved to the village of Menlo Park, New Jersey, to set up a laboratory where he could devote his full attention to invention. He promised that he would turn out a minor invention every ten days and a big invention every six months. He also proposed to make inventions to order. Before long Edison had 40 different projects going at the same time and was applying for as many as 400 patents a year.
One of these inventions was the electric pen that was invented in 1876
and was used later on in mimeograph systems. Edison
also, in 1877,
a carbon telephone transmitter that
led to a commercial telephone and later into the future, radio
broadcasting. Edison also created the phonograph in 1878 that
allowed words to be repeated after someone had spoken into the device.
In September 1878, after having viewed an exhibition of a series of eight glaring 500-candlepower arc lights, Edison announced he would invent a safe, mild, and inexpensive electric light that would replace the gaslight in millions of homes. He said that he would accomplish this by an entirely different method of current distribution from that used for arc lights. Some of New York's leading financial figures sponsored and joined Edison in October 1878 to form the Edison Electric Light Company, the predecessor of today's General Electric Company.
On October 21,1879, Edison demonstrated the carbon-filament lamp, supplied with current by his special high-voltage dynamos. The pilot light-and-power station at Menlo Park glowed with a circuit of 30 lamps, each of which could be turned on or off without affecting the rest. Three years later, the Pearl Street central power station in downtown New York City was completed, initiating the electrical illumination of the cities of the world.
In 1887 Edison moved his workshop from Menlo Park to West Orange, New Jersey, where he built the Edison Laboratory (now a national monument), a facility 10 times larger than the earlier one. In time it was surrounded with factories employing some 5,000 persons and producing a variety of new products, among them his improved phonograph using wax records, the mimeograph, fluoroscope, alkaline storage battery, dictating machine, and motion-picture cameras and projectors.
During World War I, the aged inventor headed the Naval Consulting Board and directed research in torpedo mechanisms and antisubmarine devices. It was largely owing to his urging that Congress established the Naval Research Laboratory, the first institution for military research, in 1920.
Thomas Edison died on October 18,1931 at the age of 84. Edison is credited of holding 1,093 patents and is the only person in the United States that was given a patent every year for 65 consecutive years, 1868 to 1933.
Search the entire site by entering a keyword below:
The Light Bulb