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Thomas Edison Biography

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    Thomas Edison I chose to research American inventor Thomas Alva Edison. Born on February 11, 1847 to middle-class parents in Milan, Ohio, Thomas Edison was labeled as a unique and remarkable individual with a curious passion for knowledge even as a child. Edison was taken out of school at age seven when his teacher had run out of patience with the child’s relentless questioning, constant need for attention, and what would now most likely be considered ADHD. His beloved mother, Nancy, began teaching Tom the “three R’s and the Bible”, and was convinced his unusual behavior was largely because of his extraordinary intelligence (Guthridge 23).

    After his parents introduced him to the multiple resources of their local library, Thomas began to realize that he greatly preferred teaching himself all there was to learn rather than receive instruction from others. Thomas Edison’s “unique, mental, and physical stamina” are what drove him to becoming “a successful inventor in the 19th century” (Beals). Thomas Edison’s road to success was not a straight, easy shot in any way. But he started his business ventures at a young age.

    At age twelve, Thomas “was selling newspapers, snacks and candy to people at the local railroad” station, in addition to running a small business of selling produce (Beals). Two years later, he published his very own paper and quickly gained over 300 subscribers. When Abraham Lincoln was running for President, Edison, an avid supporter, gained a little bit of fame from publishing campaign articles and advertising photographs of the candidate. Tom’s publishing projects began providing him with revenue in which he used to set up a chemical lab in his home basement, which his mother later made him shut down in fear of blowing up the house.

    Not long after, Edison was in the right place at the right time. While working at the railroad station, Edison heroically rescued the local stationmaster’s son who was walking in front of an oncoming train. As a reward for his rescue, the stationmaster began teaching the teenager to master Morse code and the telegraph. By the time Edison was fifteen, he had fully developed at achieved the skills necessary for both of these concepts. It was during this time that the Civil War broke out and Edison received a job as a replacement telegraph operator, substituting for one of the many operators who had gone off to war.

    About the time the war was over, Thomas had come up with his first real invention, the “automatic repeater,” which would allow almost anyone to “easily and speedily translate telegraph signals accurately” (Baldwin 163). However, Edison never patented this invention. Edison soon relocated and took a job as a telegrapher at the booming Western Union Company in Boston, which was “the hub of the scientific, educational, and cultural universe at this time” (Bellis). While working long days at Western Union, Thomas found time to create his first patented invention, an electronic voting machine.

    However, this invention would turn out to be completely unsuccessful. Edison and other political figures quickly realized the “invention was too far ahead of his time due to the fact that many political parties relied on the delay period that occurred when manual vote counting” was going on so that they could attempt to change the opinions of their colleagues (Beals). It was eventually used in elections almost one hundred years later. Further down the road in Boston, Edison frequently listened to college lectures and became fascinated on the ideas of “multiplexing,” which ultimately were the beginning stages of the telephone (Guthridge 98).

    During this time, Edison acquainted himself with Benjamin Bredding, a young, future assistant to Alexander Graham Bell and the brain behind many of his inventions. Bredding “provided Thomas with the detailed introduction and understanding of the state-of-the-art of the harmonograph and the multiplex transmitter” (Beals). Edison soon was in debt and close to being fired by Western Union for not focusing on his primary responsibilities. He borrowed enough money from Bredding to take a steamship to New York, where he spent the first few weeks broke and nearly starving to death.

    While walking down the street one day, Edison noticed through a window that a brokerage firm manager was in panic from what looked like a “critical stock ticker had broken down” (Israel 175). Pushing his way through the crowd to the manager, Thomas took seconds to fix the unfamiliar machine. His actions astonished the manager, who immediately gave Edison a high paying job in the firm to do future maintenance on all machines. This incident became a major event in Edison’s life because he felt like he was “suddenly delivered out of abject poverty and into prosperity” (Israel 177).

    It was during the next three years that Edison’s line of major inventions really took off. In 1874, he received enough money from selling an “electrical engineering firm that he opened his first complete testing and development lab in New Jersey” (Israel 186). Edison developed the carbon transmitter in 1876, which allowed the recently invented telephone to be “audible enough for practical use” (Bellis). A year later, he developed the first phonograph. Shortly after, Edison was mad at himself that Alexander Graham Bell had completed the telephone before him, because he was close to finishing the product himself.

    However, Edison did develop a carbon transmitter which innovated the telephone and created its massive expansion. Edison’s disappointment in himself for being beaten to the final development of the telephone drove him to surpass all inventions created up to this point and come out with the “first commercially practical incandescent electric light bulb” (“The Thomas Edison Papers”). A few years later, Edison exceeded his and everyone else’s achievements by developing the “first economically viable system of centrally generating and distributing electric heat, light, and power” (Guthridge 152).

    By the time he was forty years old, Thomas Edison was acknowledged for setting up the world’s first complete research and development center; which quickly became the largest research lab in the world. In 1890, Edison created the Vitascope, “which led to the development of the silent films” (Baldwin 209). In just a few short years of hard work, Thomas Edison had successfully developed multiple devices that would change the world as a whole. At the turn of the century, Edison came to be known as the “father of the electrical age” and “the greatest inventor who ever lived” (Bellis).

    Although he was internationally known, Edison built hardly any close relationships in his life. About the time his health began to deteriorate, Edison “received his 1093th and final patent at the age of 83,” and had been giving the nickname “Wizard of Menlo Park” (Israel 376). A year later, Thomas Edison died at his home on October 18th at the age of 84. Because his death “marked the end of an era in the progress of civilization,” individuals and companies around the world dimmed their lights or momentarily turned off their power to honor the inventor on the night of his funeral (Bellis).

    It is difficult to put into words all the ways Thomas Edison influenced history. Edison had a broad range of inventions; such as the motion picture camera, the longer lasting electric light bulb, the development of a system of street lights, and over a thousand others. Without his drive and passion for creating and improving modern science, it could have been years before America jumped in the fast lane of the industrial world. Most of Edison’s inventions enhanced America’s economy at the time of their development.

    Companies jumped at the chance of selling his patented devices, and new companies were formed to increase the marketing of the products. These events created more jobs and caused others to begin thinking and creating, which led to more new inventions. Edison helped transform America’s economy into one that was technology based rather than the agricultural based economy that had been in place for so long. There are many things I learned about Thomas Edison while researching for this paper. One thing I thought was an interesting and possibly not well known fact was that Thomas Edison was nearly deaf.

    There were a few different reasons given as to what caused his hearing loss. One author believed Edison was struck in the head by a train conductor when one of his chemical lab experiments started a fire on a train, possibly enhancing the loss of hearing. By the time Thomas was an adult, he was totally deaf in his left ear, and eighty percent deaf in his right ear. Edison decided against surgery that would fix the problem because he believed “being able to hear more would cause him to think less” (Guthridge 122).

    Another thing I did not know about the inventor was the many similarities he held with Alexander Graham Bell. Bell was the same age as Edison, and both inventors lived in Boston at the same time. Both men worked with Benjamin Bredding, which tied all three men to their interest in multiplexing. Edison and Bell were both determined to finalize the telephone at the same period in time, but Bell beat Edison to the finish line. Although, Edison’s developments enhanced the usage of the telephone and he also had invented devices that would enhance more of Bell’s creations.

    The two men may have been in their own personal races for success, but their competitiveness caused them to heighten each other’s success in the long run. Wikipedia’s article on Thomas Edison was very similar to many of the other resources written on the inventor. Edison’s biographical information was given correctly. Their article actually contained items I had not yet read about, but I later verified from other sources. Wikipedia listed all of Edison’s six children from two different wives, which I had not been able to find from my other sources.

    There are endless details on Thomas Edison’s life that could easily be left out of any article. The one thing I did notice to be missing from Wikipedia was the fact that Edison was nearly broke after he moved to New York City. Wikipedia stated that he immediately began working upon arrival, which is untrue by two other sources. It stated on one website that Edison was at the point of starvation when he accidently landed his job repairing machines at the financial firm (Beals). Works Cited Baldwin, Neil. Edison: Inventing the Century.

    University of Chicago Press, 2001 Beals, Gerald. Thomas Edison. Biography. June, 1999. http://www. thomasedison. com/biography. html Bellis, Mary. “The Inventions of Thomas Edison. ” “The Life of Thomas Edison. ” http://inventors. about. com/od/estartinventors/a/Thomas_Edison. htm Guthridge, Sue. Thomas Edison: Young Inventor. Aladdin Publishing. October 1986 Israel, Paul. Edison: A life of Invention. Wiley Publishing, September 1998 “The Thomas Edison Papers. ” March 2010. Rutgers University. http://edison. rutgers. edu/biogrphy. htm

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