Edison had a winter house in a little town called Ft. Myers. This little town was located in southwest Florida. He did a lot of his inventing here. His next door neighbors Henry Ford, and some guy with the last name Firestone.

Unfortunately, the town because so proud to host Mr. Edison every winter, they decided to name EVERYTHING after him. The mall, the schools, the streets. Not only his last name, but even his middle name, "Alva".

Every February, there is the Edison Festival of Lights parade. It is the grand finale of a week of silly events. Think of the Tullip Festival in Holland, MI. Or Mardi Gras, just not fun.

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) American inventor and businessman.

Edison is best known for his invention of the electric light system (the first practical incandescent light bulb* and supporting materials), the phonograph, and motion pictures. He also held patents on the alkaline storage battery and synthetic rubber, among many others. Many of these were invented in part by his assistants and employees, which he called "muckers".

Born February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio, the He was the seventh and last child of Samuel Edison, Jr. and Nancy Elliot Edison. He may have suffered from ADD; he was unruly enough that his parents withdrew him from school at the age of seven in order to teach him at home. Around the age of twelve, he lost most of his hearing. The cause of this is not known, but he claimed that it happened when he was grabbed by the ears and lifted onto a train. It might also have been the result of scarlet fever.

He took to business at a young age; by the time he was twelve he was selling newspapers and snacks on the Grand Trunk Railway, and had a separate business selling vegetables. He also started his own paper, which he called the Weekly Herald. He took the news that was teletyped daily to the train stations and printed it up in a flyer. This was the first paper to be printed and sold on a train (he set up a second-hand printing press in the baggage car). His profits went, in part, to setting up his own chemistry lab. When his mother complained of the smell (and danger), he moved part of this lab onto the train. Unfortunately, the movement of the train caused some phosphorous to spill, setting fire to some of the luggage. From that point on, Edison was not allowed to publish, experiment, or peddle goods on the trains (although he could still sell stuff at the stations).

By the age of 15, Edison was well versed in the field of telegraphy -- one story tells that he saved the station master's three-year-old son when the child wandered onto the tracks and into the path of an oncoming train. As a reward, the station master taught him Morse code, and how to work the telegraph. However he leaned these skills, from 1863 to 1867 Edison travelled from city to city working as a telegraph worker. (Historical note -- the American Civil War ends in 1865). In 1868 he took a job in Boston working for Western Union. During all this, of course, he was working on inventing stuff. His first invention was an automatic repeater for the telegraph; it would automatically forward telegraph messages, making unmanned telegraph stations feasible. He did not patent this invention.

In 1869 he quit his job in order to devote himself full time to inventing things. His first invention to receive a patent was the electric vote recorder. Unfortunately, no one was particularly interested in it, and Edison decided to work only on inventions that the public wanted. While working on this, he took a job in New York City as a repair man for stock tickers.

Edison's first 'useful' invention was the Edison Universal Stock Printer, an improvement on the stock ticker. He sold the rights for $40,000. His next spate of inventions were mostly improvements on the telegraph. During this time (1869) he, Franklin L. Pope, and James Ashley set up Pope, Edison and Co., a company constructing 'electrical devices'. This company merged with Gold and Stock Telegraph Co. in 1870. Edison also started up the Newark Telegraph Works to manufacture stock tickers in 1870, and the American Telegraph Works to work on developing the automatic telegraph.

In 1871 two important events happed: Edison's mother died, and later that year, on Christmas day, he married Mary Stilwell, a former employee. Their first child, Marion, was born in February 1873; their first son, Thomas, Jr., in January of 1876 (these two were nicknamed Dot and Dash by their father); and in October of 1878 William Leslie was born.

In 1876 Edison opened a laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey. Edison was not a good financial manager, and he needed money. This laboratory was to be a base from which he could concentrate on inventing more stuff more quickly (Edison said that he planned to build a small invention every ten days, and a large invention every six months). Here Edison invented the phonograph (1877), the electric light system (1879), and the carbon-button transmitter among others. He also tried to invent the telephone, but Alexander Graham Bell beat him to it; Edison did some important pioneering and refining work in the field of telephones, tho.

In 1878 Edison, J.P. Morgan, and the Vanderbilts set up the Edison Electric Light Company (later to be called General Electric, after its merger with Thomson-Houston Company). This company worked hard to introduce the wonders of electricity to the common masses (starting with the rich, the famous, and big industry). Edison, with the help of Francis Upton, developed a feasible DC generator in 1879. In 1880 the first electrical lighting system was installed in the steamship S.S. Columbia, and in 1881 the first land based, commercial lighting system was installed in Hinds and Ketcham, a New York printing firm.

Edison continued to set up factories and companies. I will spare you (and me) the full list.

In the early 1880s, Nikola Tesla invented the AC generator, which would allow electricity to be transmitted over greater distances than could be done with DC power, which required a generator every few miles. Tesla came to America to present this idea to Edison, only to find that Edison was dead set against it. Edison was making good money off of DC power, and didn't want to change, or worse, have someone else move in on his turf. Tesla and Edison had a long standing feud; Tesla believed the Edison had wronged him on multiple occasions, and had some justification for this. When Edison wouldn't help with the AC power project, Tesla went to George Westinghouse, who knew a good thing when he saw it.

When it was clear that AC power was a threat, Edison started a propaganda campaign against AC power, claiming that it was much more dangerous than DC power. Besides distributing pamphlets, he also set up demonstrations where he electrocuted dogs and cats to show the power of AC. He also convinced the authorities at Sing Sing to carry out death sentences not by hanging, but by AC power. Despite all of this, AC power 'won', and is what we use today.

In 1884 Edison's wife Mary died at the age of 29, possibly from a brain tumor (the cause was given as "congestion of the brain"). Edison remarried in 1886, to Mina Miller. They had three children together; Madeleine in 1888, Charles in 1890, and Theodore in 1898.

In 1887, Edison built a larger laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. This laboratory had a machine shop, phonograph and photograph departments, a library, and buildings for metallurgy, chemistry, woodworking, and galvanometer testings. Here he invented the motion picture camera, the alkaline storage battery (AKA Edison storage battery), the electric pen (an early printer), and improved the phonograph to the point where it could start to be sold commercially (it was first sold as a dictation machine).

Edison gave the task of inventing motion pictures to William K. L. Dickson, who presented him with the first projection device in 1889. In 1891 patent applications were put in for a motion picture camera (Kinetograph), and a small peephole viewer (Kinetoscope). Edison didn't work on a projections system, as he suspected than more money could be made with the peephole viewers. Dickson helped competitors to invent a projector, and was fired. Edison spent a lot of time tryng to oust the compitition, sueing everone he could for infringement, but in 1915 the courts finally decided that the Motion Picture Patents Company was an unfair monopoly. Edison also worked for a while on a Kinetophone (sound to go with the movies), but gave up in 1915.

In the 1890s Edison took on the challenge of inventing a machine for separating iron and platinum ore from rock by means of magnitism. The price of iron had been going up, so if he could find a way to get the iron from low-grade rejects, he might be able to make a profit off of abandoned mines. He managed to get the rights to 145 old mines, but couldn't get his system to work. He lost millions of dollars before giving up. This is Edison's biggest failure.

Jesse H. Lippincott had, in 1888, gotten control of most phonograph companies (including Edison's), and started the North American Phonograph Company. In 1894, the company finally went bankrupt, and Edison was able to buy back rights to the phonograph and, in 1896, start the National Phonograph Company, with the intent of making phographs avaialble to the general public. This company did well, but the company had a reputation of recording less talented performers, and in the 1920s, with the rising popularity of radio, business dropped.

In 1915 Edison was named head of Naval Consulting Board, in an attempt by the government to advance the technology they could bring to bear in the war (WWI). Much of Edison's attemps at new advances involved electric weapons, and most were ingnored.

Edison was in poor health for the last two years of his life. In October 14, 1931 he fell into a coma, and he died four days later at his home in West Orange, New Jersey. On October 21, 1931, electric lights were dimmed for one minute throughout the United States, as a sign of respect and mourning. At the time of his death he held 1,093 US patents and 1,239 foreign patents.

"Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration."

" I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent"

"My main purpose in life is to make money so that I can afford to go on creating more inventions"

"Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunity out there than ability"

"I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward. "

"We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything."

"Religion is all bunk."

"There ain't no rules around here. We're trying to accomplish something."


* The 'incandescent filament lamp' was invented by Joseph Swan.


References:
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/edhtml/edbio.html
http://www.thomasedison.com/biog.htm
http://www.carmensandiego.com/products/time/edisonc17/edison2.html
http://www.nps.gov/edis/timeline.htm
http://www.minot.k12.nd.us/mps/edison/edison/edison.html
http://www.incwell.com/Biographies/Edison.html
http://edison.rutgers.edu/dmforpat.htm
http://www.tomedison.org/invent.html (Doesn't distinguish Edison's inventions from his workers).
Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney.

Quotes:
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/a131929.html
Everybody Steals in Commerce and Industry. I've stolen a lot myself. But i know
how to steal. ~ Thomas Edison

When researching The famed American inventor Thomas Edison, it's common to find mention of he and Nikola Tesla's rivalry. This rivalry, which sprung up between a clash of interests between the two in DC / AC current (Direct Current and Alternating Current) power, eventually made the two men archenemies. However, this is generally all that is told of the rather unusual and abusive relationship between the two inventors.

In 1883, Nikola Tesla had been working for the European division of Edison's international business, the Continental Edison company. Charles Batchelor, the manager of Tesla's workplace and close friend of Edison himself, was very impressed with Tesla's work and encouraged him to go work directly under Edison in America. With a personal letter of introduction to Edison in hand, Tesla arrived at Edison's lab and was hired on the spot.

Tesla worked grueling 18-hour days. He spent a significant amount of time hammering out the ineffeciencies in Edison's dynamos (motors used to turn mechanical energy into DC current; see Dynamo writeup). After many hours of such work, Tesla approached Edison and offered to completely redesign them from scratch. Edison laughed at this, thinking it a monstrously enormous task that would take Tesla many years to make any progress on. Edison challenged Tesla "There's fifty thousand dollars in it for you - if you can do it."

Tesla accepted, and after a year of constant labor, produced a vastly superior version of the Dynamo, complete with automatic controls. He presented the new design to Edison and asked for his payment. Edison was greatly pleased with his work, but refused to pay him what he had agreed, saying that Nikola didn't "understand our American Humor." Tesla did, however, recieve a small raise in pay, as Edison and his company walked away with an improved Dynamo as well as the credit, patent and all the profits that came with it.

Shortly after this, Tesla requested to begin work on his AC generator, which Edison refused. Edison believed that AC power was dangerous and more trouble than it was worth, and refused to allow Tesla to work on it in his lab. Tesla wound up turning to George Westinghouse, another of Edison's enemies that owned his own electric company, and fully funded Tesla's efforts to create the AC power system that is in use today. Edison was furious, and instead decided to sabotage Tesla's efforts. After Tesla had sucessfully designed his AC generator, Edison sent dozens of scientists out to claim to have laid the groundwork for Nikola's work, which started a large mess for the rights to the patent, in which Nikola's name eventually got lost among the shuffle of the other scientists' claims.

Eventually Westinghouse's company was bought out by J.P. Morgan (ironically, one of Edison's closest friends) and was unable to pay Tesla the full royalties that he had deserved due to money problems. Tesla recieved $216,000 for his work on AC power - a large sum - but not even close to their real value at the time, which was close to $12 million.

Nikola now had no place to continue his work, and had all his previous works either stolen or bought for measly amounts of money - a situation that kept him living in poverty for the remainder of his life. He continued to work on new inventions, however, realizing that even without a lab or large amounts of money to throw around, the benefit of mankind and development of technology were worth the expense. Shortly after the demise of Westinghouse's company, Nikola produced the outline for the modern radio. While credit for the invention of the radio went to Guglielmo Marconi, Tesla had been the first scientist to provide the basic parts for the radio, as well as a schematic to build a radio device from them - Marconi simply stole it from Tesla and built it first. Once again, Tesla got no credit for it, despite being the real "Father of Radio."

Most people don't realize the true story behind Edison. He had been quoted as saying that he had no need to be a mathematician, because he could always hire one. While Nikola Tesla was a real scientist and inventor, Edison was really just an extremely innovative buisnessman - looking at current social needs and scientific trends, then hiring able people to do the work and taking the credit for his own company. Edison was, in fact, a master of the 7th of the 48 Laws of Power - Get Others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit. While this is in itself a highly unethical thing to do, it paid off for Edison - Tesla's name is not anywhere near as well-known as Edison's as a result of Edison's slyness and backstabbery - but today, Edison is known as the foremost American Inventor despite these questionable tactics.

Sources: http://www.mecfilms.com/dna/indev/features/patent.htm, The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene

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