Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio. He was the seventh and youngest child of Samuel and Nancy Edison.
When Thomas was 7 years old, the family moved to Port Huron, Michigan. Here his father had business in lumbering and land investing. Thomas wasnít too well educated as a boy, his mother a former teacher gave him his education.
Edisonís personality as a young boy was mischievous, and he loved to play pranks and jokes on others. He also enjoyed reading, especially science books.
Edisonís Jobs as a Boy
When Edison was a boy, he worked as a gatekeeper at his fatherís observatory for tourists. On a railway he also would sell candy, newspapers, and sandwiches in Detroit and Port Huron. Edison would also grow vegetables in his garden and sell them in town. At age fifteen, Edison published and sold a newspaper called the "Weekly Herald". At that time,
Edison developed hearing problems. As Edison grew older, his hearing grew worse.
The Telegraphing Job
When Al (Thomasís nickname), was 15 years old, he rescued a telegraph operatorsí son from the path of a railroad car. To reward Al, the operator gave Al telegraph lessons. In 1863, Al started working as a telegraph operator for the Western Union Telegraph Company in Port Huron. For the next 4 years, Al worked in a variety of Midwestern cities. Al quite enjoyed his work and worked hard, eager to learn more about telegraphing. Even though Al had hearing problems, he perfected the job of receiving news reports by telegraph. His skill is known as " Filling the gaps," or guessing in words that are missed while telegraphing. Telegraphers used this skill to finish incomplete messages.
Edisonís Starting of His Own Business
In 1868, Edison moved to Boston as a telegraph operator. In Boston, he improved the town fire alarm system. He also improved the stock ticker, telegraph machines used to keep record of the purchase and price on items. In 1870,
Al moved to Newark, New Jersey, partners with a machine shop operator. He started a stock ticker building company. In 1874, Al finished the design of the quadruphex. This was an improved telegraph that was faster and more dependable than a regular type. That invention gave a boost to Edisonís reputation as an inventor in the telegraph circle. In the spring of 1876, Al built a laboratory in rural Menlo Park. About 25 miles long, south of Newark, was the beginning of Edison and his assistantsí research, and the real inventions started. Thomas directed his experiments at his Menlo Park, New Jersey Laboratory. He didnít work by himself all the time. A group of talented people who worked with him.
Edisonís assistants helped put together Edisonís inventions, and helped Edison to see how others solved mechanical, electrical, and chemical problems. He then would try to improve upon those ideas. He was a good businessman and loved to design new machines for people to use. He got financial partners worldwide and made new companies to make and sell his products. Money made from selling his products helped support his research laboratory and the development of more products. As a result, Edison and other manufacturing companies in the late 1800ís helped make the United States an industrial world power! So good things actually do come from hard work!
Edison became world-famous in his mid- 30ís and a millionaire in his mid-40ís!
Thomas Alva Edisonís most famous inventions are practical electric lighting, the phonograph, and improvements on the telephone and telegraph.
In 1876 and 1877, Thomas did important experiments for recording and playing back messages sent on the telegraph and telephone. Those experiments led to a diaphragm, a metal disk that vibrated when it was hit be a sound wave. A needle sat against a spinning cylinder that was wrapped with tinfoil. When the disk would vibrate, the needle made different designs on the foil. To keep the sound small, another needle would be attached to a diaphragm and a funnel-like horn. This needle went over on top of the shapes (like retracing) on top of the foil.
The Electric Light
In 1878, Thomas researched electric lighting. Inventors worldwide were also digging into this project. In September,
Thomas saw an example of a carbon arc light. This device made an extremely bright light by sending electricity across an empty space between two carbon terminals. Thomas then started working on an incandescent lamp to be used in homes. An incandescent lamp would give a less bright light by sending electricity through a filament (wire) to make the wire glow. Finding the filament materials took Edison and his assistants months. In October 1879, they had success testing a carbon filament made from burnt sewing thread. In 1880, they used bamboo filaments, which made the light in the bulbs brighter. Thomas Alva Edison was a genius.
The Man of the House
Thomas Alva Edison was married on December 25, 1871 to Mary Stillwell. They had 3 children, Marion Estelle, Thomas Alva Jr. ,and William Leslie. Mary died in 1884. In 1885, Al met Mina Miller (his second wife). She was only a few years older than Edisonís own daughter! They married in 1886.
They had 3 children and those childrenís names were Madeleine, Charles, and Theodore. Edison was popular with his witty humor, his fame, and his story telling. His closest friend was Henry Ford.
His Last Work
While WWI (1914-1918) was going on, Edison led the Naval Consulting Board of the U.S. That was a group of inventors and business people who helped with the war effort, but he handed most of his work over to his son, Charles.
Honors to a Honored Man
Edison died in Llewellyn Park on October 18, 1931. Al was honored worldwide. The United States gave him the Medal of Honor in 1928. France had even made him a Legion of Honor in 1878 before! A very thoughtful gesture from President Hoover was on October 21, 1931, Thomas Alva Edisonís funeral. President Hoover had the lights in the White House, businesses and home throughout the nation turned off. For a short time, it was dark in buildings, to honor the one who had brought that light to them.
During Edisonís 84 year-old life, he constructed 1,093 inventions! Without Thomas Alva Edison, we would have missed out on MANY important things made!