4 Steps to Innovating like Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison didn’t become one of the Man of the Millennium without using a few important techniques for success. Over the years, he influenced his workers and America with the example he set and the ideals that he preached. In fact, his words are still helpful in today’s world and economy. Practice the essence of Edison’s philosophy for innovation by keeping these four basic concepts in mind.

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8 Ways to Excite Your Students About Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was the world’s greatest inventor, with 1093 recorded patents. He virtually re-defined our world. In 1996 Life magazine named him the “Man of the Millennium”. His accomplishments even today annually account for about $12 trillion of the $80 trillion world economy. Economists believe his amazing achievements account for 1/4th of the world’s existing jobs. Edison is also considered the great grand daddy of modern STEM / STEAM. Here are  8 ways to excite your students about Tom Edison

1) Discover the materials used in Edison’s lightbulb

The iconic image of creativity is Edison’s light bulb. It is said he tried over 3,000 materials for the design of the light bulb filament. It was a difficult challenge; and he used some unusual materials in his first filaments. Challenge your students to discover and itemize some of the unusual materials he used.

2) Choose your favorite Edison Invention and improve it

Edison considered his invention of the phonograph his favorite however, that did not keep him from constantly trying to make it better! From in foil cylinders to wax cylinders, Edison was always looking for ways to make his inventions more user-friendly and longer lasting. Have your students choose their favorite Edison invention and brainstorm ways they could improve it!

3) Write an essay inspired by Edison’s perseverance

Edison is well known for his many inventions, but he is also known for his hard work ethic and perseverance. Edison famously said, “I haven’t failed — I’ve just found 10,000 that won’t work.” Have your students think of a time in their life where they have learned from their mistakes and write a short essay about it!

4) Learn about STEM through Edison’s achievements

Edison is the “great grand daddy” of STEM. The way he did things and systematized invention, gave us important processes that became ingrained in the spirit of research and invention. Can your students express how Edison succeeded in science, technology, engineering, math, and brought all of them together? Consider taking field trip to Edison’s labs at the Thomas Edison National Historical to see where STEM first began.

5) Determine what makes a great inventor

Research conducted in the last 25 years has confirmed that inventors and entrepreneurs share similar traits like creativity and hard work. Examine some of today’s inventors like Elon Musk, Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs, and others and compare to Edison to arrive at a list of common traits that inventors exhibit.

6) Compare and contrast Edison’s technology with today’s

Thomas Edison is credited with filing the first “electronic” patent in 1883, but we all know technology has come a long way since then. Have your students create a Venn Diagram to discover the differences between the technology Edison invented and today’s.

7) Lay out the timeline of Edison’s major achievements

Challenge your students to create a large timeline that indicates when his inventions were created and patented. Have teams of students work on each decade of his life to discover and document his achievements.

8) Uncover the power of Edison’s film patent in education

Thomas Edison’s creation and implementation of motion pictures was a worldwide phenomenon. He believed one of the first big applications for this technology was movies for educational purposes. What movie do you think would make a great class lesson? Have your students vote on a movie to view in class, write down what they learned and if they think Edison had the right idea!


Thomas Edison and Your Favorite Sports on Film

An Unlikely Candidate for making Sports Viewing Popular

We take sports on film for granted today, expecting them to be exciting and worthy of watching over and over again. We probably never associate the invention of sports films with the same man who gave us the light bulb, phonograph, electric vehicle batteries and lots of other incredible creations. 

However, we must remember he also gave us motion pictures, and that led to a flurry of subject matter being filmed…including sports! Edison Studios is credited for filming the first boxing match, baseball game, hockey game, people surfing in Hawaii, and college football game!

First Hockey Game Filmed in 1901 in Montreal, Canada by Edison Studios

The first sports films were the simple ones a patron could see through a peephole projector – an early version of pay-per-view, if you will. The key here is the subject had to be filmed and preserved on a medium first [celluloid film ala George Eastman]. Later, films were made longer and more extensive so that people could go to a movie theater to see them. This would later develop into cable TV and formalized pay-per-view in an increasingly electronic world. 

In Thomas Edison’s day and even a few years ago, you needed an entire film crew to capture America’s favorite games on film. Today, thanks to a series of innovations…all you need is a phone or a GoPro. Put them on a surfboard to watch someone shoot the pipe, mount them on a car fender to capture racing action, or bring your cell phone to the stadium and film your favorite baseball player. You can send a video to your friends instantly or even become a movie producer by simply creating a Youtube channel.

The first time surfing was captured on film called “Surf Board Riders” filmed in Hawaii, 1906 by Edison Studios.

Thomas Edison said, “The world owes nothing to any man, but every man owes something to the world.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.


Thomas Edison Loved Books as much as he loved Inventing

“I read anything that helps the imagination.”

Whether it is 1847 or 2019, we can all appreciate National Book Lover’s Day. Did you know Thomas Edison had a book collection of up to 30 thousand books in his home alone? That doesn’t even include the ones he took out from other libraries – which is reportedly entire town libraries when he was traveling often in his teenage years! Imagine what he would do with a kindle today.

Thomas Edison’s West Orange corporate library, located at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, has 3 floors full of books!

TThomas Edison’s love for books started when he was young. His mother, who was also his homeschool teacher, encouraged him to read across the panorama of literature – not just what he liked but everything. He once said, “Oh, I read everything! not merely scientific works, but anything that helps the imagination.”

One of Edison’s favorite authors was Thomas Paine, the American Revolution literary patriot. As he got older, he also enjoyed reading the works and accomplishments of his technology hero, Michael Faraday.

Edison may have been one of the first to implement corporate libraries, so inventive employees had the latest and greatest information right at their fingertips. He pioneered this at his Menlo Park lab and later expanded it in his West Orange labs – known today as the Thomas Edison National Historical Park.

Books lining the walls of Thomas Edison’s living room of his Glenmont estate. Many of the books on one side of this room are technical compendiums for Edison’s evening inventive marathons.

LConsidering his love for books, Edison would have been honored to have books about him written today. If you are a fellow book lover, today is the perfect day to pick up an excellent biographies about Edison and learn more about his life. Here are some of our favorites:

  1. Lenny Degraaf; ”Edison and the Rise of Innovation”
  2. Baldwin, Neil; “Edison, Inventing the Century”
  3. Conot, Robert; “Thomas A. Edison-A Streak of Luck”
  4. Israel, Paul; “Edison-A Life of Invention”
  5. Josephson, Mathew; “Edison”

RLeft: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.