Thomas Alva Edison, 1847 - 1931

portrait of Thomas Edison
Louis Bachrach photo, circa 1922
Thomas Edison signature

Born: 11 February 1847, Milan, Ohio
Died: 18 October 1931, West Orange, New Jersey

The youngest son of railroad man Samuel "The Iron Shovel" Edison had a wandering mind. His only schoolteacher called him "addled" and he only lasted three months. He was educated by reading with help from his mother. He had scarlet fever in childhood and numerous ear infections, leading to hearing difficulties. In 1854 the family moved to Port Huron, Michigan when the railroad bypassed Milan and Edison sold candy and newspapers on the train to Detroit. He saved a three-year-old boy from being struck by a runaway train, the boy's father was a station agent at Mount Clemons, Michigan and trained Edison as a telegraph operator. In 1866 he moved to Louisville, Kentucky where he worked for Western Union handling the Associated Press wire at nights, an experiment with a lead-acid battery ended with a spill which leaked onto his bosses desk and he was fired after a year. He moved in with a friend and fellow telegrapher at Elizabeth, New Jersey and started inventing, his first patent was for an electric vote recorder in 1869. His breakthrough came in 1877 with the invention of the phonograph. This was a result of establishing the first industrial research lab at Menlo Park, since named Edison, New Jersey, with the proceeds from the sale of a patent to Western Union. It was here that Edison developed the first practical electric light, the stock ticker, the carbon transmitter for the telephone, the fluoroscope, the electric train, the motion picture camera, and many others, and here that the work was done on most of his 1,093 US patents. He created the electric utility business, although he stubbornly promoted direct current over the more practical alternating current that eventually became the standard. He organized the Edison Trust, a patent pool involving most of the players in motion picture equipment, supplies, and distribution, which established the current form of that business. Edison was an aggressive competitor and promoter, and he was never bashful about admitting that most of his success came from taking the work of others, improving it, and organizing production on a larger scale. Edison worked until his final illness, he died of complications related to diabetes.

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