History does not lack notable and influential people who, from their simple acts and convictions, made a clear mark in the development of civilization. From politics to religion, many influential names remain known even at the present time and lauded for their contributions. However, aside from politics and religion, there are also historical figures from the scientific community whose inventions remain integral to society. One of these scientific greats is American inventor Thomas Alba Edison, the known inventor of the world’s first light bulb. However, unlike his peers, Edison was a jack of all trades who was not satisfied in introducing one invention and continued to introduce innovations that still remains in use today.
The young inventor was born on February 11, 1847 in the city of Milan, Ohio to Samuel and Nancy Edison. According to Eisenman (2014), his family members saw the inventor to be inquisitive in his early years and did not agree with formal education. His mother had tutored the young Edison at home; but with his keen mind, Edison devoured books after books and taught himself concepts to develop his experiments . Edison was also rendered deaf after being boxed by a train while selling newspapers. According to Baum and Ornstein (2011), this did not stop Edison from competing with his peers and continued on with his experiments .
As he grew older, Edison worked around Detroit to sustain his hobbies and conduct both chemical and electrical experiments in his free time. In 1868, he moved to Boston to continue his experimentation on physical models and applied science. It is in Boston where he was introduced to Michael Faraday’s work on electricity that inspired Edison to invent and earn fame and fortune. At first, Edison did not fare so well in Boston as he had no job or money. However, he managed to score a job at the Law’s Gold Indicator Company as a plant superintendent and one of his earliest creations, a stock ticker, gave him funds to sustain his work .
Like most of his peers in the period, Edison was mostly familiar with the inner workings of the telephone. Simonton (2014) stated that since he was 15 years old, Edison was already interested with telegraphy and worked as a telegrapher a year after. Since then he tried to invent improvements for telegraphic repeaters and once he turned 22, he made his first patent for his printing telegraph models . In 1876, he was approached by the president of Western Union in order to improve Alexander Bell’s design of the telephone. Gorman and Carlson (1990) stated that Edison already did several designs for the telegraph systems or the quadruplex system to enable multi-messaging. The Western Union president had commissioned Edison in early designs of the telephone and allowed the inventor to analyze as to what mechanisms would work well with the system. Western Union found Edison’s version much easier to sustain and waited until Edison had managed to perfect the system. Several failures have occurred before Edison managed perfect the transmission of the telephone model. In 1878, Edison and Western Union had agreed with the final design of the carbon telephone and Edison managed to get royalties out of his patent for $100,000. Using Edison’s patents, Western Union managed to get American Bell Telephone Company to pay the company the royalties for Edison’s telephone model .
Following his success with the improved telephone scheme, Edison turned his attention to other ventures. Simonton (2014) stated that Edison also worked on phonographs and sound recording in his early 40s. He once remarked he liked the phonograph very much, there was still the fact his improvements were unable to keep up with the revisions done to the phonograph system. Edison also worked on creating light bulbs and a system that would conduct the electricity needed to power up these bulbs. It can be considered that Edison managed to improve immensely with this system with 6 patents for his model at age 31, 8 the following year and ending up with 100 patents in the process. With his creation of the light bulb making him famous and rich, Edison moved towards mining and ore miling to try something completely new. He had no knowledge, proclaiming in the process “I’m going to do something now so different and so much bigger than anything I’ve ever done before people forget that my name ever was connected with anything electrical.” He partly has an idea with this sector because he worked with electromagnets and iron, as noted in his first patent on the extraction of iron in ore deposits. However, the project he conducted with regards to this field failed as the technology he is trying to propose was not compatible with the ore type. He even lost the money he gotten from General Electric – the company he built after his invention of the light bulb – as he sold it to keep up with his study. He did; however, found success in manufacturing cement .
Aside from his inventions, Edison was also known for his work ethic and attitude that made him stand out. Baum and Ornstein (2013) and Millard (1991) showed in their studies that Edison was not happy of being just an inventor or a man who will be known for his many patents, which he claims does not bring too much money. Perfecting an invention would need time and effort to ensure that the defects are cleared before introducing it to the final model. He took time innovating, perfecting and pioneering new technologies in his factories in Menlo Park and West Orange to ensure that his inventions can be replicated and mass produced. He also did not want to make enterprises that would dominate in a specific sector, but establish a system to ensure that consumer durables such as his inventions would be brought to the public – “useful things that every man woman and child wants.”.
Edison also took time in creating connections and talent rather than the titles a person has to increase his appeal. He is known to sit with his prospect employees for lunch and determine if the prospect candidate is fit for the job. As far as connections are concerned, he knew creativity would be enhanced if he made many connections to allow him to bounce off the ideas with others. He did this instance with Alfred Sloan, Henry Ford and even Alexander Graham Bell. Many also noted that Edison was a very persistent man and would continue studying his work despite his failures, learning in the progress. Finally, he was also quite known for his promotion stunts to get people’s attention to his work. When he first introduced his light bulb, Edison had investors go to Menlo Park to see a demo. He opened the lights after sunset and the entire area was amazed with the image these lamps portray .
The onset of the First World War did not stop Edison from continuing his work as he even invented the storage battery to help the army. Simonton (2014) stated that these batteries were already devised by Edison for his telegraph studies. However, he took 9,000 experiments before he gained the results that showed it works . Several critical events occurred throughout the period such as the fire in 1914 that consumed his West Orange laboratory and his appointment as the Chairman of the Naval Consulting Board. As the war ended and in the following years, Edison had returned back to his research while in Fort Myers, Florida to create an artificial rubber. Sadly, he did not manage to finish his work as he died due to health complications on October 18. 1931 .
Even today, the legacy of Thomas Edison still remains visible in every part of the globe, may it be at the home or at the community. His life and work embodied everything an American should be – a pragmatic man and a visionary. Looking at his history, he showcased that a person can reach and excel in his dreams. Edison revolutionized the scientific industry as he not only gave the idea to other inventors or students to consider, but he also show that there is more to science than meets the eye. Edison is one of a kind and his life should serve as an inspiration to the future generation because hard work and perseverance leads to the road of success.
Baum, N and H Ornstein. "Practicing like Thomas Edison." Journal for Medicine and Practical Management 28.6 (2013): 388-389. Print.
Eisenman, Harry J. "Thomas Alva Edison." Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia (2014): Research Starters. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.
Gorman, Michael and Bernard Carlson. "Interpreting Invention as a Cognitive Process: The Case of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and the Telephone." Science, Technology & Human Values 15.2 (1990): 131-164. Print.
Millard, Andre. "Thomas Edison and the Theory and Practice of Innovation." Business and Economic History 20.2 (1991): 191-199. Print.
Simonton, Dean Keith. "Thomas Edison's Creative Career: The Multilayered Trajectory of Trials, Errors, Failures, and Triumphs." Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts (2014): 1-13. Print.