Thomas Alva Edison was a man who changed the entire landscape of the world through his amazing inventions. He discovered electric light bulb, the system of street lights, the phonograph and even the motion picture projector. Without the inventions of Edison, electricity and telephone would have remained as primitive discoveries with a lot of potential. Edison’s gifts to everyday life are so many. Many in fact say that Thomas Alva Edison invented the twentieth century. His inventions transformed the American economy from an agriculture based economy to a technology based one.
Each discovery encouraged the growth of other industries and lead to more discoveries. He had 1093 patents over many innovations and minor improvements in a wide range of fields, including telecommunications, electric power, sound recording, motion pictures, primary and storage batteries, and mining and cement technology (The Edison Papers para 1). Moreover, he also contributed a lot in the realm of research and development and more specifically the industrial research laboratory. Edison’s role as an innovator is best seen in the big businesses his inventions have helped grow.
More than 300 companies formed worldwide manufacture and market his inventions. Some such companies even carry the name Edison, including some 200 Edison illuminating companies (The Edison Papers para 1). Edison’s first patented invention was the electrical vote recorder. It was initially considered a failure and it found its use only after 90 years when it was installed for the Congress. Once, Edison fixed a broken stock ticker so well that that the owners hired him to build a better one.
That was the machine that gave information about stock market prices. Within a year he made the Edison Universal Stock Printer. Later on, in late 1999, the Stock Ticker Company in cooperation with Henry Ford Museum ; Greenfield Village introduced a working reproduction of the Universal Stock Ticker, produced by the world-renowned Berner Machine Labs and the Berner family. In 1868 Edison became an independent inventor in Boston. Moving to New York the next year, he undertook inventive work for major telegraph companies.
His work included stock tickers, fire alarms, methods of sending simultaneous messages on one wire, and an electrochemical telegraph to send messages by automatic machinery (The Edison Papers p. 2). The major achievement of this period was the quadruplex telegraph, which sent two messages simultaneously in each direction on one wire (The Edison Papers p. 3). Western Union adopted the invention and had 13,000 miles of quadruplex lines by 1878. The Western Union entrusted Edison with the task of developing a telephone that could compete with Alexander Graham Bell’s (Lemelson Center para 6).
Consequently, Edison invented a transmitter in which a button of compressed carbon changed its resistance as it was vibrated by the sound of the user’s voice (The Edison Papers para3). This principle was widely applied in telephones for the next century. This was an innovation that led to the phone’s mass use and which is still integral to the instrument today. Edison’s carbon transmitter later helped to make radio possible in that the same principle was adopted in developing a practical microphone. In the summer of 1877, Edison discovered the phonograph.
Phonographs and records were the chief means of reproducing recorded sound at home until the 1980s, when they were largely replaced by recorded cassettes. No other factor has contributed more to the overall character of musical culture in the industrialized world during the 20th century than the development of sound reproduction technologies – both those of sound recording and broadcasting – and the rise of the recording industries (Lemelson Center). His invention found a receptive public and Edison became internationally famous.
His companies manufactured the phonograph as well as the wax cylinders and, later, the disks that the phonograph played. One can say that Edison’s inventions spawned a whole new music industry. People could not record their voices and commercially sell their music. All of today’s music industries, music channels and audio systems have their roots in that discovery of Edison. Americans’ enjoyment of records has evolved into a major phenomenon and by 1977 Americans were purchasing $3 billion worth of recordings a year at retail prices and playing them on 75 million domestic playback machines.
These records played a dominant role in spreading a taste for popular and vernacular music styles–jazz, blues, hillbilly, rock and roll–and a variety of other styles of popular music (Kenney xi of 260) In the fall of 1878, Edison devoted thirty months to developing a complete system of incandescent electric lighting. Edison became a business partner with some of New York’s richest people, J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt’s. Together they formed the Edison Electric Light Company.
They made this company before electric light bulbs had been invented. Today this company is called General Electric. Edison now created the industry of electric power generation and distribution. He ushered in the electrical age. The Pearl Street station, which opened in lower Manhattan in September 1882 featured safe and reliable central power generation, efficient distribution, and a successful end use all at a competitive price (Bellis para 2). The one-square mile lit up by the Pearl Street station demonstrated the potential of electric power.
The discovery of the electric light bulbs brightened up the industrial world like no other discovery had. There were soon many bulb companies manufacturing bulbs for the world. People could work better and for longer hours under the electric lighting. This would impact the US economy in a huge positive manner. During his lamp experiments, he noticed an electrical phenomenon that became known as the “Edison effect,” the basis for vacuum-tube electronics. This principle is still used today in the manufacture of computers.
Edison worked from 1888 till 1893 on a motion picture camera. In the 1890s Edison began working on motion picture technology, and in the process created another industry. In October 1888, he began working on a machine he called a “kinetoscope”. On 20 May 1891 a prototype Kinetoscope was demonstrated (Lemelson Center para 9). The final version of the Kinetoscope used 35mm film sprocketed along both edges running vertically through the camera and viewer. This film format became, and remains, the industry standard. Edison also set up a studio on the laboratory grounds.
Covered in black tar paper, it was nicknamed the “Black Maria” and Edison used the studio to shoot short movies in 1893. He in fact developed the entire system of film production just like in the case of electric light and the phonograph. He was both an inventor par excellence and a shrewd businessman. (Lemelson Center para 9). Although Edison’s work in motion pictures was pioneering, the industry quickly became very competitive. Today, the film industry stands as a monumental tribute to one of the world’s greatest inventors.
Numerous people depend on the film industry for their living. The film industry is serving to help people all over the world come together through film festivals. The Hollywood Film Industry in particular is still amazingly popular, prosperous and providing a boost to the country’s economy. Edison adapted some of the machinery to process Portland cement. A roasting kiln he developed became an industry standard. Edison cement was used for buildings, dams, and even Yankee Stadium (Dyer page 525). This helped in the growth of the construction industry.
In the early years of the automobile industry there were hopes for an electric vehicle, and Edison spent the first decade of the twentieth century trying to develop a suitable storage battery. Although gas power won out, Edison’s battery is used extensively in industry in things like railroad signals, miners’ head lamps, and marine buoys. In World War I the federal government asked Edison to head the Naval Consulting Board, which examined inventions submitted for military use. Edison worked on several problems, including submarine detectors and gun location techniques.
By the time of his death in 1931, Edison had received 1,093 U. S. patents, a total still untouched by any other inventor (Hoar 33). Even more important, he created a model for modern industrial research. In fact, historically speaking, Edison’s inventions brought in the Second Industrial Revolution – a period of rapid growth of the US economy. The impact of Edison’s inventions to the US history is too huge for computation when we consider the telegraph and telephone inventions. Edison’s improvisation of Watt’s steam engine made it more feasible in the wider global scope.
The phenomenal growth of the copper industry was due to a rapid and ever-increasing demand, owing to the exploitation of the telephone, electric light, electric motor, and electric railway industries. Similarly, as a result of Edison’s inventions, business and sales increased for iron, steel, brass, zinc, nickel, platinum, rubber, oils, wax, bitumen, various chemical compounds, belting, boilers, injectors, structural steel, iron tubing, glass, silk, cotton, porcelain, fine woods, slate, marble, electrical measuring instruments, miscellaneous machinery, coal, wire, paper, building materials, sapphires, and many others (Dyer 682).
Edison’s incandescent lamp has led to the rise of over 6000 central stations in this country for the distribution of electric current for light, heat, and power, with capital obligations amounting to not less than $1,000,000,000 and there were factories where these incandescent lamps are made. There are also great electrical works of the country, in which the dynamos, motors, and other varied paraphernalia are made for electric lighting, electric railway, and other purposes.
The largest of these works is undoubtedly that of the General Electric Company at Schenectady, New York, a continuation and enormous enlargement of the shops which Edison established there in 1886 (Dyer 683). The principle of the telephone is used in every one of the 7,000,000 telephones which are estimated to be employed in the country at the present day and has also spawned a competition in the telephone manufacturing sector (Dyer 684).
His cement corporation in five years grew to be the fifth largest producer in the United States, with a still increasing capacity (Dyer 684). When Thomas Alva Edison died in 1931, President Herbert Hoover asked his countrymen to turn off their lamps for a moment in a widespread silent tribute to this great American. In the words of Hoar (page 33): “The country fell dark. And when the lights of our country once more were lighted they illuminated a world made infinitely better by one determined man with a dream”.
Dyer, Lewis Frank (1910). Edison: His Life and Inventions. In Two Volumes Illustrated Volume II. Harper and Brothers. New York, 1910. Hoar, P. William (2004). The Man Who Lit Up the World: Thomas Edison Changed the World through His Ability, Persistence — and Hard Work. “Genius,” He Said, “Is One Percent Inspiration and Ninety-Nine Percent Perspiration”. The New American. Volume: 19. Issue: 13. Publication Date: June 30, 2003. Page Number: 33+. Kenney, Howland William (1999).
Recorded Music in American Life: The Phonograph and Popular Memory, 1890-1945. Oxford University Press. New York: 1999. Bellis, Mary (2006). The Inventions of Thomas Edison. Accessed March 14, 2007. http://inventors. about. com/library/inventors/bledison. htm> The Edison Papers. Rutgers University. Accessed March 14, 2007. <http://edison. rutgers. edu/biogrphy. htm> Lemelson Center. Edison Invents. Accessed March 14, 2007. c