Thomas Alva Edison
(February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) was an
American inventor and businessman who developed many devices that greatly
influenced life around the world, including the phonograph and the
long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. Dubbed "The Wizard of Menlo
Park" by a newspaper reporter, he was one of the first inventors to apply
the principles of mass production and large teamwork to the process of
invention, and therefore is often credited with the creation of the first
industrial research laboratory.
Edison is considered one of the most prolific inventors in history,
holding 1,093 U.S. patents in his name, as well as many patents in the
United Kingdom, France and Germany. He is credited with numerous inventions
that contributed to mass communication and, in particular,
telecommunications. His advanced work in these fields was an outgrowth of
his early career as a telegraph operator. Edison originated the concept and
implementation of electric-power generation and distribution to homes,
businesses, and factories - a crucial development in the modern
industrialized world. His first power plant was on Manhattan Island, New
A film by Thomas A. Edison. 1904
Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, and grew up in Port Huron,
Michigan. He was the seventh and last child of Samuel "The Iron Shovel"
Edison, Jr. (1804–1896) (born in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, Canada) and
Nancy Matthews Elliott (1810–1871). He considered himself to be of Dutch
In school, the young Edison's mind often wandered, and his teacher, the
Reverend Engle, was overheard calling him "addled." This ended Edison's
three months of official schooling. He recalled later, "My mother was the
making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to
live for, someone I must not disappoint." His mother then home schooled him.
Much of his education came from reading R.G. Parker's School of Natural
Philosophy and The Cooper Union.
Edison developed hearing problems at an early age. The cause of his
deafness has been attributed to a bout of scarlet fever during childhood and
recurring untreated middle ear infections. Around the middle of his career
Edison attributed the hearing loss to being struck on the ears by a train
conductor when his chemical laboratory in a boxcar caught fire and he was
thrown off the train in Smiths Creek, Michigan, along with his apparatus and
chemicals. In his later years he modified the story to say the injury
occurred when the conductor, in helping him onto a moving train, lifted him
by the ears.
Edison's family was forced to move to Port Huron, Michigan, when the
railroad bypassed Milan in 1854,
but his life there was bittersweet. He sold candy and newspapers on trains
running from Port Huron to Detroit, as well as vegetables that he sold to
supplement his income. This began Edison's long streak of entrepreneurial
ventures as he discovered his talents as a businessman. These talents
eventually led him to found 14 companies, including General Electric, which
is still in existence, and one of the largest publicly traded companies in
the world .
Edison became a telegraph operator after he saved three-year-old Jimmie
MacKenzie from being struck by a runaway train. Jimmie's father, station
agent J.U. MacKenzie of Mount Clemens, Michigan, was so grateful that he
trained Edison as a telegraph operator. Edison's first telegraphy job away
from Port Huron was at Stratford Junction, Ontario, on the Grand Trunk
Railway. In 1866, at the age
of 19, Thomas Edison moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where as an employee of
Western Union he worked the Associated Press bureau news wire. Edison
requested the night shift, which allowed him plenty of time to spend at his
two favourite pastimes—reading and experimenting. Eventually, the latter
pre-occupation cost him his job. One night in 1867, he was working with a
battery when he spilled sulphuric acid onto the floor. It ran between the
floorboards and onto his boss's desk below. The next morning he was fired.
One of his mentors during those early years was a fellow telegrapher and
inventor named Franklin Leonard Pope, who allowed the impoverished youth to
live and work in the basement of his Elizabeth, New Jersey, home. Some of
Edison's earliest inventions were related to telegraphy, including a stock
ticker. His first patent was for the electric vote recorder, (U. S. Patent
90,646), which was granted
on June 1, 1869.
Marriages and children
On December 25, 1871, Edison married 16-year-old Mary Stilwell, whom he
had met two months earlier as she was an employee at one of his shops. They
had three children:
- Marion Estelle Edison (1873–1965), nicknamed "Dot"
- Thomas Alva Edison, Jr. (1876–1935), nicknamed "Dash"
- William Leslie Edison (1878–1937)
Mary Edison died on August 9, 1884.
On February 24, 1886, at the age of thirty nine, Edison married
20-year-old Mina Miller in Akron, Ohio.
She was the daughter of inventor Lewis Miller, co-founder of the Chautauqua
Institution and a benefactor of Methodist charities. They also had three
- Madeleine Edison (1888–1979), who married John Eyre Sloane
- Charles Edison (1890–1969), who took over the company upon his
father's death and who later was elected Governor of New Jersey
He is buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey.
- Theodore Miller Edison (1898–1992).
Mina outlived Thomas Edison, dying on August 24, 1947.
Beginning his career
Thomas Edison began his career as an inventor in Newark, New Jersey, with
the automatic repeater and his other improved telegraphic devices, but the
invention which first gained him fame was the phonograph in 1877. This
accomplishment was so unexpected by the public at large as to appear almost
magical. Edison became known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park," New Jersey,
where he lived. His first phonograph recorded on tinfoil around a grooved
cylinder and had poor sound quality. The tinfoil recordings could only be
replayed a few times. In the 1880s, a redesigned model using wax-coated
cardboard cylinders was produced by Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell,
and Charles Tainter. This was one reason that Thomas Edison continued work
on his own "Perfected Phonograph."
Edison's major innovation was the first industrial research lab, which
was built in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Built with the funds from the sale of
Edison's quadruplex telegraph, it was the first institution set up with the
specific purpose of producing constant technological innovation and
improvement. Edison was legally attributed with most of the inventions
produced there, though many employees carried out research and development
work under his direction. His staff was generally told to carry out his
directions in conducting research, and he drove them hard to produce
results. The large research group, which included engineers and other
workers, based much of their research on work done by others before them.
William J. Hammer, a consulting electrical engineer, began his duties as
a laboratory assistant to Edison in December 1879. He assisted in
experiments on the telephone, phonograph, electric railway, iron ore
separator, electric lighting, and other developing inventions. However,
Hammer worked primarily on the incandescent electric lamp and was put in
charge of tests and records on that device. In 1880, he was appointed chief
engineer of the Edison Lamp Works. In his first year, the plant under
General Manager Francis Robbins Upton turned out 50,000 lamps. According to
Edison, Hammer was "a pioneer of incandescent electric lighting".
Nearly all of Edison's patents were utility patents, which were protected
for a 17-year period and included inventions or processes that are
electrical, mechanical, or chemical in nature. About a dozen were design
patents, which protect an ornamental design for up to a 14-year period. Like
most patents, the inventions he described were improvements over prior art.
The phonograph patent, on the other hand, was unprecedented as the first
device to record and reproduce sounds.
Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, but instead invented
the first commercially practical incandescent light. Several designs
had already been developed by earlier inventors including the patent he
purchased from Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans, Moses G. Farmer,
Joseph Swan, James Bowman Lindsay, William E. Sawyer, Sir Humphry Davy, and
Heinrich Göbel. Some of these early bulbs had such flaws as an extremely
short life, high expense to produce, and high electric current drawn, making
them difficult to apply on a large scale commercially. In 1878, Edison
applied the term filament to the element of glowing wire carrying the
current, although the English inventor Joseph Swan had used the term prior
to this. Edison took the features of these earlier designs and set his
workers to the task of creating longer-lasting bulbs. By 1879, he had
produced a new concept: a high resistance lamp in a very high vacuum, which
would burn for hundreds of hours. While the earlier inventors had produced
electric lighting in laboratory conditions, dating back to a demonstration
of a glowing wire by Alessandro Volta in 1800, Edison concentrated on
commercial application, and was able to sell the concept to homes and
businesses by mass-producing relatively long-lasting light bulbs and
creating a complete system for the generation and distribution of
The Menlo Park research lab was made possible by the sale of the
quadruplex telegraph that Edison invented in 1874. It could send four
simultaneous telegraph signals over the same wire. After his demonstration
of the telegraph, Edison was not sure that his original plan on selling it
for $4,000 to $5,000 was right, so he asked Western Union to make a bid. He
was surprised to hear them offer $10,000,
which he graciously accepted. The quadruplex
telegraph was Edison's first big financial success and allowed him to build
In just over a decade Edison's Menlo Park laboratory had expanded to
occupy two city blocks. Edison said he wanted the lab to have "a stock of
almost every conceivable material". A newspaper article printed in 1887
reveals the seriousness of his claim, stating the lab contained "eight
thousand kinds of chemicals, every kind of screw made, every size of needle,
every kind of cord or wire, hair of humans, horses, hogs, cows, rabbits,
goats, minx, camels ...silk in every texture, cocoons, various kinds of
hoofs, shark's teeth, deer horns, tortoise shell ...cork, resin, varnish and
oil, ostrich feathers, a peacock's tail, jet, amber, rubber, all ores ..."
and the list goes on.
Over his desk, Edison displayed a placard with Sir Joshua Reynolds'
famous quote: "There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid
the real labor of thinking."
This slogan was reputedly posted at several other locations throughout the
With Menlo Park, Edison had created the first industrial laboratory
concerned with creating knowledge and then controlling its application.
In 1877–1878, Edison invented and developed the carbon microphone used in
all telephones along with the Bell receiver until the 1980s. After
protracted patent litigation, in 1892 a federal court ruled that Edison—and
not Emile Berliner—was the inventor of the carbon microphone. The carbon
microphone was also used in radio broadcasting and public address work
through the 1920s.
After many experiments with platinum and other metal filaments, Edison
returned to a carbon filament. The first successful test was on October 22,
1879, and lasted
40 hours. Edison continued to improve this design and by November 4, 1879,
filed for U.S. patent 223,898 (granted on January 27, 1880) for an electric
lamp using "a carbon filament or strip coiled and connected to platina
Although the patent described several ways of creating the carbon filament
including "cotton and linen thread, wood splints, papers coiled in various
ways", it was
not until several months after the patent was granted that Edison and his
team discovered a carbonized bamboo filament could last over 1,200 hours.
Edison allegedly bought light bulb U.S. patent 181,613 of Henry Woodward
that was issued August 29, 1876 and obtained an exclusive license to
Woodward's Canadian patent. These patents covered a carbon rod in a nitrogen
filled glass cylinder, and differed substantially from the first
commercially practical bulb invented by Edison.
In 1878, Edison formed the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City
with several financiers, including J. P. Morgan and the members of the
Vanderbilt family. Edison made the first public demonstration of his
incandescent light bulb on December 31, 1879, in Menlo Park. It was during
this time that he said: "We will make electricity so cheap that only the
rich will burn candles."
George Westinghouse's company bought Philip Diehl's competing induction
lamp patent rights (1882) for $25,000, forcing the holders of the Edison
patent to charge a more reasonable rate for the use of the Edison patent
rights and lowering the price of the electric lamp.
On October 8, 1883, the U.S. patent office ruled that Edison's patent was
based on the work of William Sawyer and was therefore invalid. Litigation
continued for nearly six years, until October 6, 1889, when a judge ruled
that Edison's electric light improvement claim for "a filament of carbon of
high resistance" was valid. To avoid a possible court battle with Joseph
Swan, whose British patent had been awarded a year before Edison's, he and
Swan formed a joint company called Ediswan to manufacture and market the
invention in Britain.
Mahen Theatre in Brno in what is now the Czech Republic, was the first
public building in the world to use Edison's electric lamps, with the
installation supervised by Edison's assistant in the invention of the lamp,
Francis Jehl. 
Electric power distribution
Edison patented an electric distribution system in 1880, which was
essential to capitalize on the invention of the electric lamp. On December
17, 1880, Edison founded the Edison Electric Illuminating Company. The
company established the first investor-owned electric utility in 1882 on
Pearl Street Station, New York City. It was on September 4, 1882, that
Edison switched on his Pearl Street generating station's electrical power
distribution system, which provided 110 volts direct current (DC) to 59
customers in lower Manhattan.
Earlier in the year, in January 1882 he had switched on the first steam
generating power station at Holborn Viaduct in London. The DC supply system
provided electricity supplies to street lamps and several private dwellings
within a short distance of the station. On January 19, 1883, the first
standardized incandescent electric lighting system employing overhead wires
began service in Roselle, New Jersey.
Edison's true success, like that of his friend Henry Ford, was in his
ability to maximize profits through establishment of mass-production systems
and intellectual property rights. This dampened the success of less
profitable work by others who were focused on inventing longer-lasting
George Westinghouse and Edison became adversaries because of Edison's
promotion of direct current for electric power distribution instead of the
more easily transmitted alternating current (AC) system invented by Nikola
Tesla and promoted by Westinghouse. Unlike DC, AC could be stepped up to
very high voltages with transformers, sent over thinner and cheaper wires,
and stepped down again at the destination for distribution to users.
In 1887 there were 121 Edison power stations in the United States
delivering DC electricity to customers. When the limitations of Direct
Current (DC) were discussed by the public, Edison launched a propaganda
campaign to convince people that Alternating Current (AC) was far too
dangerous to use. The problem with DC was that the power plants could only
economically deliver DC electricity to customers about one and a half miles
from the generating station, so it was only suitable for central business
districts. When George Westinghouse suggested using high-voltage AC instead,
as it could carry electricity hundreds of miles with marginal loss of power,
Edison waged a "War of Currents" to prevent AC from being adopted.
Despite Edison's contempt for capital punishment, the war against AC led
him to become involved in the development and promotion of the electric
chair as a demonstration of AC's greater lethal potential versus the "safer"
DC. Edison went on to carry out a brief but intense campaign to ban the use
of AC or to limit the allowable voltage for safety purposes. As part of this
campaign, Edison's employees publicly electrocuted animals to demonstrate
the dangers of AC,
 even though protection
from electrocution by AC or DC is essentially the same. On one of the more
notable occasions, in 1903, Edison's workers electrocuted Topsy the elephant
at Luna Park, near Coney Island, after she had killed several men and her
owners wanted her put to death.
His company filmed the electrocution.
AC replaced DC in most instances of generation and power distribution,
enormously extending the range and improving the efficiency of power
distribution. Though widespread use of DC ultimately lost favor for
distribution, it exists today primarily in long-distance high-voltage direct
current (HVDC) transmission systems. Low voltage DC distribution continued
to be used in high density downtown areas for many years but was replaced by
AC low voltage network distribution in many central business districts. DC
had the advantage that large battery banks could maintain continuous power
through brief interruptions of the electric supply from generators and the
transmission system. Utilities such as Commonwealth Edison in Chicago had
rotary converters, also known as motor-generator sets , which could change
DC to AC and AC to various frequencies in the early to mid-20th century.
Utilities supplied rectifiers to convert the low voltage AC to DC for such
DC loads as elevators, fans and pumps. There were still 1,600 DC customers
in downtown New York City as of 2005, and service was only finally
discontinued on November 14, 2007.
The New York City Subway system is still run by DC power to this day.
Edison is credited with designing and producing the first commercially
available fluoroscope, the machine that takes radiographs (colloquially
known as "X-rays"). Until Edison discovered that calcium tungstate
fluoroscopy screens produced brighter images than the barium platinocyanide
screens originally used by Wilhelm Röntgen, the technology was only capable
of producing very faint images. The fundamental design of Edison's
fluoroscope is still in use today, despite the fact that Edison himself
abandoned the project after nearly losing his own eyesight and seriously
maiming his assistant, Clarence Dally. Dally had made himself an
enthusiastic human guinea pig for the fluoroscopy project and in the process
been exposed to a poisonous dose of radiation. He later died of injuries
related to the exposure. In 1903, a shaken Edison said "Don't talk to me
about X-rays, I am afraid of them."
Frank J. Sprague, a competent mathematician and former naval officer, was
recruited by Edward H. Johnson and joined the Edison organization in 1883.
One of Sprague's significant contributions to the Edison Laboratory at Menlo
Park was to expand Edison's mathematical methods. Despite the common belief
that Edison did not use mathematics, analysis of his notebooks reveal that
he was an astute user of mathematical analysis,
for example, determining the critical parameters of his electric lighting
system including lamp resistance by a sophisticated analysis of Ohm's Law,
Joule's Law and economics ). A key to Edison's success was an holistic rather
than reductionist approach to invention, making extensive use of trial and
error. Since Sprague joined Edison in 1883 and Edison's output of patents
peaked in 1880, it could
be interpreted that the shift towards a reductionist analytical approach may
not have been a positive move for Edison ). Sprague's important analytical contributions,
including correcting Edison's system of mains and feeders for central
station distribution, form a counter argument to this. In 1884, Sprague
decided his interests in the exploitation of electricity lay elsewhere, and
he left Edison to found the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company.
However, Sprague, who later developed many electrical innovations, always
credited Edison for their work together ).
Another of Edison's assistants was Nikola Tesla, who claimed that Edison
promised him $50,000 if he succeeded in making improvements to his DC
generation plants. Tesla claimed that several months later, when he had
finished the work and asked to be paid, Edison said, "When you become a
full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke."
Tesla immediately resigned. With Tesla's salary of $18 per week, the payment
would have amounted to over 53 years pay and the amount was equal to the
initial capital of the company. Tesla resigned when he was refused a raise
to $25 per week. Although
Tesla accepted an Edison Medal later in life and professed a high opinion of
Edison as an inventor and engineer, this and other negative series of events
concerning Edison remained with Tesla. The day after Edison died, the New
York Times contained extensive coverage of Edison's life, with the only
negative opinion coming from Tesla who was quoted as saying, "He had no
hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter
disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene" and that, "His
method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be
covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first,
I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little
theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labour. But he
had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge,
trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American
sense." When Edison was a very old man and close to death, he said, in
looking back, that the biggest mistake he had made was that he never
respected Tesla or his work.
There were 28 men recognized as Edison Pioneers.
The key to Edison's fortunes was telegraphy. With knowledge gained from
years of working as a telegraph operator, he learned the basics of
electricity. This allowed him to make his early fortune with the stock
ticker, the first electricity-based broadcast system. Edison patented the
sound recording and reproducing phonograph in 1878. Edison was also granted
a patent for the motion picture camera or "Kinetograph". He did the
electromechanical design, while his employee W.K.L. Dickson, a photographer,
worked on the photographic and optical development. Much of the credit for
the invention belongs to Dickson.
In 1891, Thomas Edison built a Kinetoscope, or peep-hole viewer. This device
was installed in penny arcades, where people could watch short, simple
films. The kinetograph and kinetoscope were both first publicly exhibited
May 20, 1891.
On August 9, 1892, Edison received a patent for a two-way telegraph. In
April 1896, Thomas Armat's Vitascope, manufactured by the Edison factory and
marketed in Edison's name, was used to project motion pictures in public
screenings in New York City. Later he exhibited motion pictures with voice
soundtrack on cylinder recordings, mechanically synchronized with the film.
Officially the kinetoscope entered in Europe when the rich American
Businessman Irving T. Bush (1869–1948) bought from the Continental Commerce
Company of Franck Z. Maguire and Joseph D. Bachus a dozen machines. Bush
placed from October 17, 1894 on the first kinetoscopes in London. At the
same time the French company Kinétoscope Edison Michel et Alexis Werner
bought these machines for the market in France. In the last three months of
1894 The Continental Commerce Company sold hundreds of kinetoscopes in
Europe (i.e. the Netherlands and Italy). In Germany and in Austria-Hungary
the kinetoscope was introduced by the
Deutsche-österreichische-Edison-Kinetoscop Gesellschaft, founded by the
Ludwig Stollwerck  of the
Schokoladen-Süsswarenfabrik Stollwerck & Co of Cologne. The first
kinetoscopes arrived in Belgium at the Fairs in early 1895. The Edison's
Kinétoscope Français, a Belgian company, was founded in Brussels on January
15, 1895 with the rights to sell the kinetoscopes in Monaco, France and the
French colonies. The main investors in this company were Belgian
industrialists. On May 14, 1895 the Edison's Kinétoscope Belge was founded
in Brussels. The businessman Ladislas-Victor Lewitzki, living in London but
active in Belgium and France, took the initiative in starting this business.
He had contacts with Leon Gaumont and the American Mutoscope and Biograph
Co. In 1898 he also became shareholder of the Biograph and Mutoscope Company
In 1901, he visited the Sudbury area as a mining prospector, and is
credited with the original discovery of the Falconbridge ore body. His
attempts to actually mine the ore body were not successful, however, and he
abandoned his mining claim in 1903.
A street in Falconbridge, as well as the Edison Building, which served as
the head office of Falconbridge Mines, are named for him.
In 1902, agents of Thomas Edison bribed a theater owner in London for a
copy of A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès. Edison then made
hundreds of copies and showed them in New York City. Méliès received no
compensation. He was counting on taking the film to US and recapture the
huge cost of it by showing it throughout the US when he realized it has
already been showing in the US by Edison. This bankrupted Méliès.
Other exhibitors similarly routinely copied and exhibited each others films.
To better protect the copyrights on his films, Edison deposited prints of
them on long strips of photographic paper with the U.S. copyright office.
Many of these paper prints survived longer and in better condition than the
actual films of that era.
Edison's favourite movie was The Birth of a Nation. He thought
that talkies had "spoiled everything" for him. "There isn't any good acting
on the screen. They concentrate on the voice now and have forgotten how to
act. I can sense it more than you because I am deaf."
In 1908, Edison started the Motion Picture Patents Company, which was a
conglomerate of nine major film studios (commonly known as the Edison
Trust). Thomas Edison was the first honorary fellow of the Acoustical
Society of America, which was founded in 1929.
Orange and Fort Myers (1886-1931)
Edison moved from Menlo Park after the death of Mary Stilwell and
purchased a home known as "Glenmont" in 1886 as a wedding gift for Mina in
Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey. In 1885, Thomas Edison bought
property in Fort Myers, Florida, and built what was later called Seminole
Lodge as a winter retreat. Edison and his wife Mina spent many winters in
Fort Myers where they recreated and Edison tried to find a domestic source
of natural rubber.
Henry Ford, the automobile magnate, later lived a few hundred feet away
from Edison at his winter retreat in Fort Myers, Florida. Edison even
contributed technology to the automobile. They were friends until Edison's
In 1928, Edison joined the Fort Myers Civitan Club. He believed strongly
in the organization, writing that "The Civitan Club is doing things--big
things--for the community, state, and nation, and I certainly consider it an
honor to be numbered in its ranks."
He was an active member in the club until his death, sometimes bringing
Henry Ford to the club's meetings.
Edison was active in business right up to the end. Just months before his
death in 1931, the Lackawanna Railroad implemented electric trains in
suburban service from Hoboken to Gladstone, Montclair and Dover in New
Jersey. Transmission was by means of an overhead catenary system, with the
entire project under Edison's guidance. To the surprise of many, he was at
the throttle of the very first MU (Multiple-Unit) train to depart Lackawanna
Terminal in Hoboken, driving the train all the way to Dover. As another
tribute to his lasting legacy, the same fleet of cars Edison deployed on the
Lackawanna in 1931 served commuters until their retirement in 1984, when
some of them were purchased by the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum in Lenox,
MA. A special plaque commemorating the joint achievement of both the railway
and Edison, can be seen today in the waiting room of Lackawanna Terminal in
Hoboken, presently operated by New Jersey Transit.
Edison was said to have been influenced by a fad diet that was popular in
the day to that in his last few years "the only liquid he consumed was a
pint of milk every three hours".
He is reported to have believed this diet would restore his health. However,
this tale is doubtful. In 1930, the year before Edison died, Mina said in an
interview about him that "Correct eating is one of his greatest hobbies."
She also said that during one of his periodic "great scientific adventures",
Edison would be up at 7:00, have breakfast at 8:00, and be rarely home for
lunch or dinner, implying that he continued to have all three.
Edison became the owner of his Milan, Ohio, birthplace in 1906. On his
last visit, in 1923, he was shocked to find his old home still lit by lamps
Thomas Edison died on October 18, 1931, in his home, "Glenmont" in
Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey, which he had purchased in 1886 as
a wedding gift for Mina.
Mina died in 1947. Edison's last breath is reportedly contained in a test
tube at the Henry Ford Museum. Ford reportedly convinced Charles Edison to
seal a test tube of air in the inventor's room shortly after his death, as a
memento. A plaster death mask was also made.
on politics, religion and metaphysics
Historian Paul Israel has characterized Edison as a "freethinker".
Edison was heavily influenced by Thomas Paine's Age of Reason.
Edison defended Paine's "scientific deism," saying, "He has been called an
atheist, but atheist he was not. Paine believed in a supreme intelligence,
as representing the idea which other men often express by the name of
deity." In an
October 2, 1910 interview in the New York Times Magazine, Edison
Nature is what we know. We do not know the gods of religions. And
nature is not kind, or merciful, or loving. If God made me—the fabled
God of the three qualities of which I spoke: mercy, kindness, love—He
also made the fish I catch and eat. And where do His mercy, kindness,
and love for that fish come in? No; nature made us—nature did it all—not
the gods of the religions.
Edison was accused of atheism for those remarks, and although he did not
allow himself to be drawn into the controversy publicly, he defended himself
in a private letter: "You have misunderstood the whole article, because you
jumped to the conclusion that it denies the existence of God. There is no
such denial, what you call God I call Nature, the Supreme intelligence that
rules matter. All the article states is that it is doubtful in my opinion if
our intelligence or soul or whatever one may call it lives hereafter as an
entity or disperses back again from whence it came, scattered amongst the
cells of which we are made."
named for Edison
Several places have been named after Edison, most notably the town of
Edison, New Jersey. Thomas Edison State College, a nationally-known college
for adult learners, is in Trenton, New Jersey. Two community colleges are
named for him: Edison State College in Fort Myers, Florida, and Edison
Community College in Piqua, Ohio.
There are numerous high schools named after Edison; see Edison High School.
The City Hotel, in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, was the first building to be
lit with Edison's three-wire system. The hotel was re-named The Hotel
Edison, and retains that name today.
Three bridges around the United States have been named in his honor (see
Museums and memorials
In West Orange, New Jersey, the 13.5 acre (5.5 ha) Glenmont estate is
maintained and operated by the National Park Service as the Edison National
The Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower and Museum is
in the town of Edison, New Jersey. In Beaumont, Texas, there is an Edison Museum,
though Edison never visited there. The Port Huron Museum, in Port Huron, Michigan,
restored the original depot that Thomas Edison worked out of as a young
newsbutcher. The depot has been named the Thomas Edison Depot Museum. The town has many Edison historical landmarks,
including the graves of Edison's parents, and a monument along the Saint
Clair River. Edison's influence can be seen throughout this city of 32,000.
In Detroit, the Edison Memorial Fountain in Grand Circus Park was created to
honor his achievements. The limestone fountain was dedicated October 21,
Companies bearing Edison's name
- Edison General Electric, merged with Thomson-Houston Electric
Company to form General Electric
- Commonwealth Edison, now part of Exelon
- Consolidated Edison
- Edison International
- Southern California Edison
- Edison Mission Energy
- Edison Capital
- Detroit Edison, a unit of DTE Energy
- Edison Sault Electric Company, a unit of Wisconsin Energy
- Metropolitan Edison
- Ohio Edison
- Toledo Edison
- Edison S.p.A., a unit of Italenergia
- Boston Edison, a unit of NSTAR, formerly known as the Edison
Electric Illuminating Company
- WEEI radio station in Boston, established by the Edison Electric
Illuminating Company (hence the call letters)
named in honor of Edison
The Edison Medal was created on February 11, 1904, by a group of Edison's
friends and associates. Four years later the American Institute of
Electrical Engineers (AIEE), later IEEE, entered into an agreement with the
group to present the medal as its highest award. The first medal was
presented in 1909 to Elihu Thomson and, in a twist of fate, was awarded to
Nikola Tesla in 1917. It is the oldest award in the area of electrical and
electronics engineering, and is presented annually "for a career of
meritorious achievement in electrical science, electrical engineering or the
In the Netherlands, the major music awards are named the Edison Award
and awards given to Edison
In 1887, Edison won the Matteucci Medal.
He was ranked thirty-fifth on Michael H. Hart's 1978 book The 100,
a list of the most influential figures in history. Life magazine
(USA), in a special double issue in 1997, placed Edison first in the list of
the "100 Most Important People in the Last 1000 Years", noting that the
light bulb he promoted "lit up the world". In the 2005 television series
The Greatest American, he was voted by viewers as the
In 1983, the United States Congress, pursuant to Senate Joint Resolution
140 (Public Law 97 - 198), designated February 11, Edison's birthday, as
National Inventor's Day.
items named after Edison
The United States Navy named the USS Edison (DD-439), a Gleaves
class destroyer, in his honour in 1940. The ship was decommissioned a few
months after the end of World War II. In 1962, the Navy commissioned USS
Thomas A. Edison (SSBN-610), a fleet ballistic missile nuclear-powered
submarine. Decommissioned on December 1, 1983, Thomas A. Edison was stricken
from the Naval Vessel Register on April 30, 1986. She went through the
Navy’s Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton,
Washington, beginning on October 1, 1996. When she finished the program on
December 1, 1997, she ceased to exist as a complete ship and was listed as