About Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison was born in 1847 in Ohio. He only went to school for three months in his entire life. Edison’s mother homeschooled him and encouraged him to make a workshop in the basement of the family home. He started his first business at age twelve, and he went on to invent the modern lightbulb, motion pictures, and the phonograph.
Thomas Edison was an entrepreneur from a very early age. He began selling newspapers to passengers on the train when he was twelve. A few years after that, he saved a three-year-old boy from being hit by a train, and the child’s father was so grateful that he taught Edison how to operate a telegraph. By fifteen, Edison was working as a telegraph operator and spending all of his free time studying and working on his experiments. By twenty-two, he sold the rights to a stock ticker for $40,000 and was free to work on his inventions full time.
The first invention Edison presented to the public was a machine to record votes, but the US Congress rejected it. He wanted his next inventions to be popular, so he turned to entertainment. In 1877, he created a phonograph that could record and play back sounds or voices. Later, Edison made engraved metal discs to play popular songs on the phonograph. Another familiar Edison invention is an early kind of film projector. To watch a movie, the person looked inside a box with a light and rotated a strip of photographs inside to create a story.
Lightbulbs and electricity already existed when Edison was working, but they were unsafe for homes. In 1878, he designed a simple glass bulb with a piece of material inside that would light up. This style of lightbulb has barely changed and is still used. Next, he built power stations to make the electricity needed to run lightbulbs in homes and offices.
War of the Currents
Edison wanted to use direct current for electricity, but the power stations had to be less than one mile from homes, because the current couldn’t travel very far. Nikola Tesla, an employee of Edison’s, invented another method called alternating current. Alternating current solved the problem, but it would make Edison less money. They had a bitter fight, and Edison refused to pay Tesla his bonus. To make alternating current look dangerous to the public, Edison and another employee used it to invent the electric chair. Alternating current was used to light New York in 1882. By the 1890s, hundreds of towns had Edison power stations, and now direct current is used around the world.
- Edison became nearly deaf at twelve years old.
- He loved Morse code used in telegraphs, nicknaming his children Dot and Dash and asking his second wife to marry him by tapping in her hand.
- Edison’s nickname was the Wizard of Menlo Park.
- The word movie comes from moving photos to make a film.
- Edison created over one thousand patents in his lifetime, including Portland cement, a tattoo machine, and the alkaline battery.
Wherever Edison lived, he built laboratories next to his home. After his success with the lightbulb, he moved to New Jersey and built a new group of laboratories and factories that eventually had ten thousand employees. He worked on several projects at time until his death in 1931.