Thomas Alva Edison is amongst the most renowned and prolific inventors of all time. He exerted a remarkable influence on modern life through inventions such as the motion picture camera, luminescent light bulb, improved telegraph and telephone, and the phonograph. He managed to acquire an astounding 1,093 patents in his 84 years. Besides being an inventor, Thomas Edison was also a triumphant manufacturer and businessman. He marketed and sold his inventions directly to the public. Edison’s life was full of a myriad of business associations, partnerships, and corporations. He became victorious over various patents. The following is a biography of an enormously active and complex life of Thomas Alva Edison.
Samuel and Nancy Edison are the parents of Thomas Alva Edison. Samuel and Nancy gave birth to Edison on February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio. He was the seventh and last child of Samuel and Nancy. After Edison attained the age of seven, his family moved to Port Huron, Michigan (Conot 217). Edison lived in Port Huron until the age of sixteen. Nonetheless, he had remarkably little formal education because he attended school only for a few months. His mother was extremely instrumental in his life, and she taught Edison writing, reading and arithmetic. The mother affirms that he was an exceptionally curious child and learnt much reading unaided. The belief in self-improvement remained an inspiration in his entire life.
Early Life of Thomas Edison
In the 18th century, most children began working at a tender age, and Edison was not an exception. Just like the other kids did, he began working at the age of thirteen. He worked as a newsboy, selling candy and newspapers on the local railroad. He identified a place in between Port Huron and Detroit. According to his mum, Edison spent much of his time reading scientific and technical books. Some of the things he learnt at an early age was relating well to people and how to operate a telegraph. Upon attaining the age of sixteen, he became capable of operating the telegraph effectively. In the subsequent year, he got employed full time as a telegrapher.
The first step in communication advancement was the invention and subsequent development of the telegraph. In the 19th century, the telegraph industry went through rapid expansion. The rapid expansion in the field of communication brought numerous opportunities. This rapid development in communication presented Edison and others likeminded teenagers opportunity to travel around the country and gain experience on several issues. Before Edison arrived in Boston in 1868, he had the privilege of working numerous cities throughout the United States. This made him learn a lot and gain numerous ideas that later became instrumental in his adult life. When Edison arrived in Boston in 1868, he began to change his profession from telegrapher to inventor. This was a notable and an essential step in Edison’s life. After becoming an inventor, he received his first patent on an electric vote recorder. An electric vote recorder was a device intended to ensure that the voting process was fast. This is a tool could contribute immensely to the elected bodies such as Congress by speeding up the voting process. However, the electric vote recorder invention was a business failure. This commercial failure disoriented Edison to some extent. He later resolved that in the future, he would only develop things that were salable to the general public. He also resolved that he would only invent devices that the public demanded.
Marriage to Mary Stilwell
In 1869, just a year after Edison underwent through a commercial failure he moved to New York City. He never lost hope and continued to work on inventions related to the telegraph, and made advancement in life by developing his first successful invention. Martin affirms that “Edison invented an improved stock ticker referred to as the ‘Universal Stock Printer’ (211).” This was the first time he earned a lamp sum cash of $40,000 for his universal stock printer and other related inventions. After earning $40,000 in 1871, Edison used the money to establish his first laboratory and a manufacturing facility based in Newark, New Jersey. Edison worked for five years in Newark as inventor and manufacturer of devices that immensely contributed to the efficiency of the telegraph. This was a tiresome work, and Edison felt the urge of having for companion. He later married Mary Stilwell and started a family in Newark, New Jersey. This was also a turning point in Edison’s life.
Move to Menlo Park
Edison decided to sell his Newark manufacturing firm in 1876, and moved both his family and staff of assistants to the small village of Menlo Park. Menlo Park is roughly twenty-five miles southwest of New York City. After this shift of residence, Edison decided to establish a new facility that had equipments essential for working on any invention. This research and development laboratory was the one and only in this area and it presented numerous opportunities to Edison. He later constructed modern facilities such as Bell Laboratories; one of the Edison’s greatest invention and achievements in life. To this point, Edison began the process of transforming the world.
Tin foil phonograph was the first great invention developed by Thomas Edison after moving to Menlo Park. This was the first machine that could record and reproduce sound. This technological advancement brought Edison to international fame. He became a renowned inventor and he toured the country with his new invention. At a point, President Rutherford B. Hayes in April 1878 called him to demonstrate how his device worked. He received accolades from the President and decided that he was going to use the phonograph as a mother of other inventions. This saw the invention of motion pictures, which currently helps in the development of movies.
While Edison focused on improving the phonograph, he also began working on a device that “does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.” The later device was to become the motion pictures. In the opening of 1891, Edison first demonstrated motion pictures and began commercial production of movies. The following two years, Edison built a peculiar looking structure known as Black Maria, which stood on the laboratory grounds.
Following subsequent successful developments by Edison such as the electric light and phonograph, he decided to develop a complete system that helps in the development of motion pictures. This system had everything needed to develop film and show motion pictures. Edison’s success in numerous areas or innovations compelled him to develop devices aimed at improving the motion pictures. Nonetheless, many people developed an interest in his new industry of motion pictures. Many people became attracted and contributed immensely in the improvement of motion picture work. The development of the motion picture was an instrumental achievement as it contributed to the subsequent development of other industries. In the field of business, people’s interest invites competition and by 1918 the industry had become so competitive that Edison decided to leave the industry and find other ventures.
Challenges faced by Thomas Edison
After successful development of the phonograph and motion pictures, Edison had numerous challenges in his career. The first challenge was an increasing competition from other people who developed interest in the field. Particularly, the success of his phonograph aided in 1890s contributed to subsequent failures of Edison’s profession. After leaving the motion picture industry, Edison decided to join the mining industry. Throughout the decade he still worked in his laboratory and also in the old iron mines of northwestern New Jersey. The reason why he joined the mining industry was to develop methods of mining iron ore. This was essential advancement since the iron ore was to serve the ravenous demand of steel mills in Pennsylvania.
Edison had developed immensely in General Electronics. For him to finance this new venture, he had to sell all his reserve in General Electronics. After spending enormous amount of money on research and development, Edison’s efforts turned unfruitful. Edison was unable to venture into a commercially viable business, and he lost all his money. Edison’s effort to join mining industry saw him lose millions of dollars he earned in ten years. This was a devastating effort, which would have meant financial ruin if Edison did not continue developing the phonograph and motion pictures. Lucky enough, Edison entered the new century still financially secure despite all the challenges.
Areas of Success in Edison’s Life
Following his failure in the mining industry, he adapted some machinery used in processing Portland cement. He developed a roasting kiln that later became instrumental in the industry. After processing cement, he decided to sell his products by himself to people constructing dams, houses, and even the Yankee Stadium. After Edison underwent through all the above challenges, he never lost hope in life. Edison believed that challenges are part of life and all he wanted was to invent a new product. His new challenge was to develop a better storage battery for electric vehicles. During his life he enjoyed automobiles and owned several different types. He had cars powered by powered by gasoline, steam and electricity. As insightful as Edison was, he thought that electric propulsion was the best method of powering cars.
However, he understood that there were inadequate conventional lead-acid storage batteries that were crucial to his invention. In 1899, he began developing an alkaline battery. This was the most difficult project for him since it took him ten years. By the he managed to develop the new alkaline battery, the gasoline powered car had so improved that electric vehicles became increasingly less common. Nevertheless, his alkaline battery proved useful and assisted in lighting railway cars and signals, miner’s lamps and maritime buoys. Unlike iron ore mining, Edison’s alkaline battery was remarkably successful and eventually became his most profitable product. Additionally, his alkaline battery paved way for the present alkaline battery.
By 1911, Edison had constructed a gigantic industrial operation in West Orange. Due to population increase in the area, many companies were built and his staff member had also grown to thousands. For the purposes of management of operations, he brought all the companies together into one corporation. Edison became the president and chairman of his new company, Thomas A. Edison Incorporated.
Age is always a challenge faced by everyone. At the time Edison became the president and chairman of his corporation, he was sixty-four years old. His life began to change despite his new role in his company. This pushed him to assign other people numerous roles. This made his laboratory to carry little experimental work but instead focused on refining existing products. While Edison focused on filing more patents for emergent innovations, he spent very little time developing new products.
Edison was later called upon to head the Naval Consulting Board in 1915. During this period, the United States was inching closer towards getting involved in World War I; the Naval Consulting Board was focusing on developing new talents of renowned and emerging scientists and inventors. This was to benefit the United States and the American armed forces at large. Edison did not decline the offer, however, during his tenure; the board did not make an outstanding contribution to the final allied victory. Edison’s efforts later contributed to the future successful cooperation between the US military and scientists or inventors. At the age of seventy, Edison spent numerous months on Long Island Sound to have some experience on the borrowed navy vessel (Matthew 121). He learnt about how the technique of detecting marines works.
Honoring Thomas Edison’s Life
The role played by Thomas Edison was incredibly instrumental since it changed many lives. His life came from an inventor and entrepreneur to cultural icon symbolized American ingenuity. In 1928, Edison was recognized as an achiever and the United States Congress gave him a special Medal of Honor. In the following year, the American nation celebrated the golden jubilee of the luminous light which was an achievement of Edison. This celebration was partly in honor of Edison as a major contributor to numerous fields (Poster for Thomas 2). Those who attended to grace the occasion included President Herbert Hoover and numerous prominent American inventors and scientists.
The final experiment done by Edison was in the late 1920s when he was requested to assist in finding a substitute to replace rubber used in tires of automobile. This was because there was need to replace the natural rubber that was used in tires that came from the rubber tree. The rubber tree did not grow in the United States at that particular time. They manufacturers of rubber tire had to import crude rubber, which was incredibly costly. With Edison’s passion in research, he decided to test thousands of different plants just to look for a suitable substitute. He finally found Goldenrod weed, which could produce enough rubber. This project was still underway when he died.
Final Journey of Thomas Alva Edison
In his final years, he worked tirelessly on the rubber project and in the process, his health started deteriorating. It became essential for him to spend much of his time away from the laboratory. He decided to spend his time working at Glenmont, but he developed a trend of visiting his family in Fort Myers, Florida. Edison attained the age of eighty and suffered from numerous conditions, which saw him collapse at Glenmont in August 1931. This was the end of the journey to a great personality, Thomas Alva Edison.