Thomas Edison–Still Relevant Today

Young Tom Edison-about 12

Young Tom Edison-about 12

He is the world’s greatest inventor-proclaimed Man of the Millennium in 1996 by Life magazine. Economists believe because of his incredible lifetime accomplishments, one fourth of all the jobs on the planet today can be traced back to him.

Yes, it is Thomas Edison, the home-schooled boy born in the Midwest in 1847 who develops an indomitable spirit of never giving up and learning from failure.

His early fascination with telegraphy leads to many new inventions including vastly improved telegraphy, a more practical telephone, the stock ticker, and an electric pen-the harbinger of copying machines.

As he matures he rocks the world with the electric light bulb/and the demonstration of the central electric power generation system, the phonograph and movies… three mainstays of our modern world. Another major innovation is the “invention factory”, a system for producing rapid prototypes of new inventions, later to be re-named the R&D lab-arguably his greatest contribution to economic growth.

The Invention Factory

The Invention Factory

Edison with the First Electronic Patent-a Hybrid Light Bulb Prototype Vacuum Tube

Edison with the First Electronic Patent-a Hybrid Light Bulb Prototype Vacuum Tube

Today, his inventions and accomplishments make up about 10% of the annual American economy…85 years after his death!

On and on the litany of his inventions go-the first electronic patent, leading to vacuum tubes; radio transmission; alkaline storage batteries; loudspeakers; improved cement; fluoroscopy; talking dolls; fluorescent lights. It is a rich and powerful engine of innovation he fashions.

We think it is cool today to have electric vehicles in our garages, charging up overnight. We can thank Edison for this as well, for he pioneered such a thing in 1905-1908. Edison, the visionary, was busy years ago changing our world in yet another way. Oh yes, Edison was a big solar energy enthusiast way back in 1910!

Edison Holding his Famous Nickel-Iron Storage Battery for Electric Vehicles

Edison Holding his Famous Nickel-Iron Storage Battery for Electric Vehicles

At his legendary West Orange, NJ labs, known today as the Thomas Edison National Historical Park [NPS], visitors can experience Edison in many displays; and listen to experts discuss the man’s successes and failures.

The Park is the site of the world’s most complete technological museum, the mother ship of our nation’s technological glory, where everything Edison is carefully and lovingly cared for so generations of Americans can experience the birth of our technological prowess. All his original inventions and related 5 million written documents and laboratory notebooks are all there.

About 40,00 students and teachers a year visit the site as part of their STEM classroom experience … for Thomas Edison and what he did at West Orange is the very taproot of STEM learning.

Young Students Visiting the Park and Taking their Junior Ranger Oath

Young Students Visiting the Park and Taking their Junior Ranger Oath

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said, “I have more respect for the fellow with a single idea who gets there than for the fellow with a thousand ideas who does nothing.”

Time® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

Share

Thomas Edison, Concrete, and Clean Air

What say we clear the air … specifically of carbon dioxide, that nasty greenhouse gas pollutant; and when we do, we make a useful product as well … concrete.

An enterprising company, Blue Planet, is unleashing some really cool technology involving biomineralization, the process by which coral reefs and shellfish use carbon dioxide to make their mineral shells. It’s the same process that an oyster employs to make a pearl. One could opine it’s a “gem” of a process.

Quick refresher:
Conventional cement–Portland cement–is made primarily of calcium oxide; but at Blue Planet, their aim is to make a different kind of cement made primarily of calcium carbonate. Cement is the binder that makes concrete–which also contains aggregate, sand and water. About 5-7% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from the making of concrete.

The Blue Planet process can feed off a nearby source of carbon dioxide like a natural gas-fired power plant and convert the carbon dioxide into calcium carbonate [limestone], at the rate of a ton of material every two hours. A pilot plant capable of producing 10,000 tons of material a year is being planned. Blue Planet hopes to clean the air and give conventionally produced concrete a run for its money. Famed actor, Leonardo DiCaprio serves on one of the advisory boards of Blue Planet.

Cement is used in many applications around the globe-man’s ubiquitous building material

Cement is used in many applications around the globe-man’s ubiquitous building material

At the University of California, a team is hard at work to also produce concrete using another interesting angle. They start with that pesky carbon dioxide and make a slurry of calcium hydroxide as a feedstock to 3D printers to form beams and other shapes for construction. Since conventional cement making is a great source of carbon dioxide, the U of C effort is aiming at using that carbon dioxide source to make more environmentally clean cement.

The University work is in its early stages, but shows promise. They can ultimately produce usable building shapes in about two hours, compared to waiting 30 days for conventional concrete to fully cure.

J.R. DeShazo, left, and Gaurav Sant show off a sample of the new building material they have created to replace concrete.

J.R. DeShazo, left, and Gaurav Sant show off a sample of the new building material they have created to replace concrete.

It’s worth noting that Mr. Edison revolutionized the traditional concrete-making process at the same time he was creating concrete homes, way back in 1910-1915. He increased the efficiency of cement making. Now, the use of carbon dioxide in the air and in combustion gases is being used to make concrete. I think I see a smile forming on Tom’s face. He was no friend of air pollution as he felt electric vehicles were a much cleaner form of transportation than gasoline vehicles; and he was also a big proponent of solar energy. Were he alive today, Edison would embrace this kind of air cleaning research!

Editor’s Deep Dive:

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said, “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

Share

Thomas Edison on Time

Are you one of those people who hear the clock ticking, relentlessly squeezing your productive time? Thomas Edison sure did. He had a keen sense of how fast time was moving; knowing that with each tick of the clock, competition was edging closer.

“The thing with which I lose patience most is the clock. Its hands move too fast”

Edison’s time card would often register 90+ hours a week of work time!

Edison’s time card would often register 90+ hours a week of work time!

His incredible legacy of team-based invention, which led to the invention factory concept, later to be popularly known as commercial R&D labs, has two great advantages….first, it codifies new product development into a repeatable sequence of steps-thereby extending indefinitely the industrial revolution of the late 1880s, right on up to current times. Second, it allows an incredibly fertile mind like Edison to multiplex his interests and skills across many project teams-which in Edison’s case usually kept 30-40 teams continuously busy with new inventions. In a way, the invention factory was a way to cheat that relentless clock he heard so clearly.

“The only time I become discouraged is when I think of all the things I like to do and the little time I have in which to do them”

Even in his home library, the mind of the great inventor was ever engaged.

Even in his home library, the mind of the great inventor was ever engaged.

Edison embodied this preoccupation with time with a stretch goal for his teams-often challenging them to come up with a minor invention every ten days and a major one every 3-6 months. Every night in the quiet of his home library, Edison would develop new ideas to be prototyped in his labs. His children would help him find important information from his many technical books, looking through the books and placing bits of paper where Papa could find what he was looking for.

“I would like to live about three hundred years. I think I have ideas enough to keep me busy that long.”

The world is grateful for the relentless work of Thomas Edison, for he defined our modern world, adding incredible value and benefits for generations to come. We should all be glad he heard that ticking clock.

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

Share