Thomas Edison has been described in many quarters as the father of the modern age, most notably for one bright moment in his life – the invention of the light bulb.
He was born on February 11th, 1847 in the busy Milan port district of Ohio to middle class parents, and not as some suggest into poverty. In 1854, he and his family upped sticks and settled down in the glorious city of Port Huron, Michigan, where the young Edison discovered a thirst for science.
The precocious youth, aged just seven years old, was an exasperating individual and his teacher at that time couldn’t satisfy his student’s constant questioning and need for answers. His behaviour was erratic and even seemingly self-centred to others. In an attempt to quash Thomas’ hunger for knowledge, his teacher turned to humiliation as a method of quieting him, citing his enlarged hands and head as symptoms of a scrambled brain and the reason for his odd behaviour.
His mother soon became aware of the situation and her response was to pull him from the school and home-teach him.
Edison always paid tribute to his mother as the woman who “was the making of me.”
Through working with a science tutor Thomas learned of the works of Sir Isaac Newton, and although he loved the simple beauty that he found in his laws of physics, he did not appreciate the high brow language that Newton wrote in which he felt was confusing to the average person, and from then on he denounced all things grandiose.
Edison was gifted with rare skills and insights which allowed him to forge an incredible understanding of the nature of things, and while his poor hearing countered his utter brilliance at first, he turned that into a positive too, using the lack of sound as a barrier against outside distractions.
In his early teens a fateful day came along. He saved a young boy from being hit by a train and in return for his heroism the boy’s father taught Edison how to master Morse code. This led Thomas on a journey into scientific discovery, involving him in learning ways to improve the ‘Telegraph’ device and his use of it. It was a pivotal moment in is life.
His first invention was the “automatic repeater” which relayed telegraph signals between unmanned stations which allowed people to take more time deciphering the codes.
After that he moved over a thousand miles to Boston in a bid to raise money for his parents who had fallen on hard times. He worked as a telegrapher for Western Union and studied at Boston Tech where he met Alexander Graham Bell and Benjamin Bredding. A few ‘failed’ inventions later he borrowed $35.00 for a steamboat ticket to New York.
It was here that he tasted his first success. After almost three weeks of poverty in the Big Apple, he happened across an office where a stock-ticket machine had malfunctioned. He promptly fixed it and was hired on the spot for $300.00 per month.
He continued to develop his telegraph machine, quadruplex transmitter and stock-ticket improvements, the latter netting him an incredible $40,000 paid by the corporation.
By this point he was 29 years old.
In 1879, after losing out in the patent race for invention of a device that could convey the human voice (Bell got the patent on the telephone), Edison trumped his fellow inventors by inventing the first practical incandescent light bulb.
That invention alone won him plaudits and revolutionised the way we live even today, but in 1883 he went one better and designed a system to centrally produce electricity and carry it safely outwards – the electricity grid.
Subsequent inventions were the Vitascope which opened the door to silent movies, the first Dictaphone, mimeograph, storage battery and kinetiscope which led to the first ‘talky’ films.
After amassing an incredible 1,093 patents, Thomas Edison died on October 18th, 1931 in New Jersey at the age of 84. He was undoubtedly one of the most important men in modern history and his tireless work improved society immeasurably.
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