Thomas Edison

Born February 11, 1847 Died October 18, 1931

Thomas Alva Edison was born February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio. At the age of seven, Edisonís family moved to Port Huron, Michigan. As a young child, Thomas Edison was not only curious, but he also had some difficulty hearing. He asked so many questions of his school teacher that she believed that he was not very bright or not paying attention as he should. As a result, he quit school and continued his education at home, taught by his own mother, a former teacher.

At the age of 16, Edison got a job working a telegraph. While he worked, he studied the subject of electricity on his own and did independent experiments. He even set up his own laboratory to work in and took copious notes. In 1868 while working for Western Union, Edison invented a machine to count votes. He received a patent for his electric vote machine, but nobody wanted to use it.

Thomas Edison built a laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. People often referred to it as his "invention factory" and they often called Edison "the wizard of Menlo Park". In 1876 Edison invented a carbon transmitter. This was later used to make the telephone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell, a more commercially feasible product. He also created a better telephone microphone.


In Menlo Park on November 29,1877 Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. Having already made improvements to both the telegraph and telephone, Edison was hoping to create a way to record telegraph messages, it was the phonograph. The first phonograph was turned by hand and required two styluses. One stylus etched the grooves during the recording and the second stylus was used when playing the message back.

On December 15, 1877 Edison filed for a patent for his invention the "phonograph". Edison felt his phonograph would be used for business purposes and for recording family history in the familyís own voices. It was others who believed that it might someday be used to record music.

On October 15, 1878 in New York City, Thomas Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company. In October of 1879 Edison had a light bulb burn successfully for 13 hours. He was most interested in making a bulb that would have enough duration to make it commercially practical. In addition to the bulb itself, Edison worked on creating a low cost generator as well as wires which would carry the correct voltage of electricity for his bulb.

On September 4, 1881 the first lighting system for New York City was turned on. Edisonís lighting company had 400 lamps and 85 paying customers when it began. General Electric company was formed in 1892 when Edison merged his company with the Thompson-Houston Electric company controlled by George Westinghouse.

In 1889 Edison invented the Kinetoscope. This creation was a moving picture show from strips of film for one person to view. The pictures for the Kinetoscope were taken with the Kinetograph, a camera which took a series of photographs at 40 per second. He hoped that the Kinetoscope would be used to motivate children to learn and he envisioned them being used in schools.

In 1893 Edison along with William K. L. Dickson opened a motion picture studio in West Orange, New Jersey. One of the first performers for this studio was, Annie Oakley, a wild west sharp shooter.

On October 18, 1931 Thomas Alva Edison died at the age of 84. Across the United States people turned out their lights for one minute to honor this great inventor.

Try the activity "Fun With Light" for a game of hide and seek with a hidden science lesson.

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