Thomas A. Edison
Thomas Alva Edison was one of the greatest inventors of all of history.
Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio. As a child, he lived in Milan and Port Huron, Michigan. He only received three months of formal schooling.
In his late teens, Edison became a railroad newsboy and eventually a telegraph operator. While working in these positions, he began to invent items. He received his first patent -- for an electric vote recorder -- in 1869. That same year, Edison moved to New York City, where he found employment as the general manager of a stock-ticker company. At the same time, Edison helped establish Pope, Edison & Company. This firm specialized in inventing new products, especially ones that utilized electricity. Edison sold his share of the firm in 1870, and he used the profits to open a manufacturing company. This firm's principal goal was to create new inventions. During this period, among Edison's successful creations were a carbon transmitter, which greatly improved the telephone, and quadruplex telegraphy.
In 1876, Edison moved his firm to Menlo Park, New Jersey. It was at Menlo Park where Edison made his most famous inventions. In 1877, the inventor demonstrated his phonograph for the first time. Two years later, he unveiled the incandescent light bulb. This second discovery led Edison to create elaborate generation plants for electricity, helping make electricity available in many people's homes. In 1887, Edison moved his laboratory to West Orange, New Jersey, where he invented the kinetoscope -- the precursor to the film projector -- in 1891. During World War I, Edison helped develop new weapons for the United States military. He remained active in science and continued to invent products for the remainder of his life. By the time of his death on October 18, 1931, Edison had received over one thousand patents.
Edison's inventions forever changed people's lives. Electric lights allowed people to remain active at night, whether it be reading, dancing, or listening to Edison's phonograph. Previously, with only candles or fireplaces to light homes, most people simply went to sleep once nightfall arrived. Factories also began to use electricity and electric lights. Now factories could remain open twenty-four hours per day, and soon the workday became divided into three eight-hour shifts. His improvements to the telegraph and telephone also helped make communication easier around the entire world.
- Israel, Paul. Edison: A Life of Invention. N.p.: Wiley, 2000.
- Jonnes, Jill. Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World. N.p.: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2004.
- Josephson, Mathew. Edison: A Biography. N.p.: Wiley, 1992.
- Nye, David E. Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940. N.p.: The MIT Press, 1992.