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> Thomas Alva Edison, a tireless inventor Issue: 2003-1 Section: Science



Thomas Alva Edison was born on 11th February 1847 in a small town called Milan in United Sates. The Edisons had been rebellious and had had their own ways for many generations. Holland was their homeland, but their country’s borders were too tight for them. They emigrated to Canada and settled in a very small town called Vienna. Al’s father Samuel Edison fell in love with a local teacher and married her. Because of political reasons Thomas’s parents had to emigrate to the United States. Thomas took his first lessons from his mother, a former teacher. He was learning willingly and quickly, but he used to get much more information outside the house. He was everywhere and he was interested in everything. When he was seven his parents moved to port Huron. The boy started attending school there. He wasn’t keen on books and he would persistently ask questions. In the class, instead of listening to the teacher, he preferred talking to his classmates or just dreaming with his eyes open. The teacher didn’t notice his skills and he told him he was crazy. At the same time, he stated that his attending school was a waste of time. That opinion made Mrs Edison very angry. She took her son away from the school and started educating him herself again. Thomas was grateful to her for knowing how to satisfy his huge lust for knowledge.

Al was an enterprising boy. His first trade undertaking was based on a vegetable garden, which was at his parents’ house. He grow vegetables and sold them to the neighbours. Half of the earned money, he would give to the mother, and with the rest, he’d buy books and chemicals for his experiments.

His first job was press distribution. While travelling on trains not only he did sell newspapers with profits, but also he traded vegetables which he transported. Apart from that, he did chemical experiments in the luggage carriage. At fifteen he started to print his own newspaper „Weekly Herald”. Obviously, he did everything by himself being a reporter, an editor, a typesetter, a publisher distributor, an advertisement’s agent and a salesman at the same time. It was a two-page newspaper published in 400 copies. Certainly it was the first and the only newspaper printed on a train. The London’s „The Times” noticed that and on that occasion Edison’s surname was found for the first time in the press, not counting obviously his own newspaper.

Young Edison worked for a couple years as a telegraphist in some rail companies. He was so good, that that he became one of the fastest telegraphist in the country, at the same time he carried on his chemical experiments. In a small shop, with the help of a mechanic man, Edison built his first working invention on which he got a patent – the first patent out of 2500 American and foreign patents, which were his life’s output. It was a voice recording machine, which made and controlled voting in parliament institutions easier.

At the age of 22 he became a technical manager at Gold Indicator Company. Soon after that, he managed to improve a telegraphic system of passing on gold exchange rates to the subscribers, for which he obtained forty thousand dollars. It was a huge amount of money at that time. Following that invention there were a lot of others and soon Edison became a famous and rich man.

New inventive ideas and ways of rationalisation were running through his head like a continuous stream. Every idea was checked out and whenever it held some promise he would carry it into effect. At some point Edison was working on forty five inventions at the same time.

When he was twenty four, he married Mary Stillwell. His proposal had been very original, he had done it using Morse’s alphabet.

In Menlo Park, where Edison had moved with his family from New York, a modern, research laboratory and a residential house next to it came into being.

One day Edison was working on a telegraphic signals recording machine. While he was setting a needle to groove lines and dots on a wax cylinder, he said something to his assistants, suddenly the needle pricked his finger. That event contributed to the invention of phonograph. Due to this machine Edison’s surname was famous all over the word. The press gave him a title “The Wizard from Menlo Park”.

The following years in Edison’s life were a long chain of ideas, inventions, successes and failures. Working unceasingly he was in his element. In the last decade of his life Edison was already a living legend – a wonder-worker of technology’s century. He had not less than 2500 patents. He worked almost until the last day of his life, which ended on 18 October 1931, when he was 84. With Edison the age of inventions age of a wide range had finished and a specialist age had started.


Here are some Edison's inventions due to which he has been famous until today

Edison’s picture tube (1889) projected a set of photographs taken on a whole strap of film, on a screen making an impression of moving pictures. The photographs were watched from a viewfinder at the top of the device, which started working after inserting a coin. The projection lasted for only fifteen seconds.



The telephone was actually invented by Antonio Meucci and improved by Alexander Graham Bell, but Thomas made a practical device out of it. Thanks to Edison the caller’s voice was heard much further.


Edison constructed, patented and improved more than 1000 inventions. Among other things: the radio, the Dictaphone, the duplicator, accumulator; he improved the projection apparatus, the camera, the telegraph and a lot of others.


„ A day will come when steam energy will be converted into electric energy…A few electric factories spread in a large city will give enough electricity to light up every flat and every industrial plant. It will be enough to turn a screw to switch on and off lights in a house. The electric light will be whiter, more constant and safe than the light given by all the so far known lamps. There will be no unpleasant reeks and no smoke. Thereby we will get the best lighting for health. It will not dirty our celings nor furniture”. These words were said by Thomas Alva Edison himself. As we know, he wasn’t wrong.


A diagram of an improved electric lamp patented by Thomas Edison in The Patent Office of the United States at nr: 214 636 on 22nd April 1879.



  • „Men who shaped the Future” and „Men who changed the World”, Egon Larsen.
  • Graphics from web resources.



Thanks are due to the teacher mgr Piotr Sołtys for their support in consultation.