Posts belonging to Category All About Tom



Thomas Edison – Relevant in the Classroom

Teaching Thomas Edison in the classroom is the fundamental expression of what STEM/STEAM is all about, how he changed the world with his invention process-the so-called invention factory, later re-named R&D labs. It was his greatest invention.

Many teachers and educators write in to us, access our websites and visit the Thomas Edison National Historic Park [TENHP] to learn how to bring his lessons into the classroom. Shown below are some tips for integrating Edison into the classroom.

Edison at his office desk-always studying new things.

Edison at his office desk-always studying new things.

The roots of his 1093 patents always began with detailed notebooks of his experiments and findings. Whenever student teams work on developing new ideas, have them keep track of their work in a team notebook, practicing the important skill of documenting their findings. This will help them continually improve their inventions—something Edison would heartily applaud.

Original Edison sketch for the phonograph!

Original Edison sketch for the phonograph!

The invention process you encounter in STEM literature is basically the one Edison used to codify the iterative invention process:
1) Identify a problem worth solving
2) Evaluate the economics/market needs
3) Identify constraints, impacts, challenges
4) Identify/test potential solutions-invent!
5) Validate invention against 1), 2) and 3)
[repeat 1) thru 5) as necessary-re-design/re-evaluate original problem]
6) Market the invention
7) Grow and improve the invention

Use this process to empower students to ask questions. The quality of solutions is dependent upon the quality of the questions asked. Teach them how to ask tough questions! Let your students be like “hard boiled” detectives when they have problems to solve-to get in there and turn every problem inside-out, learning as much as possible about the problem and how proposed solutions could be used.
The questions are especially important to step 3) above…dealing with constraints and limits that can affect any new invention.

A smiling Edison

A smiling Edison

Host a website/newsletter in your class/school. What a great way to promote and practice communications! Have students develop a website accessible to the entire school, and perhaps other schools within your district. Students can write articles about how Edison changed the world, influencing us yet today. All things Edison can be explored and discussed, along with publicly available photos of the great inventor and his work.

Invite inventors into the classroom, modern day inventors so they can explain how to use creativity techniques to develop solutions to problems. Allow your students to learn first-hand from men and women who invent as a living or as a vital part of their jobs as engineers, technologists, scientists…etc. Consider writing articles about the meeting with inventors and publish them on the school website mentioned above.

Which was Edison’s greatest Invention? Study the many inventions created by Edison, fostering a debate about the pros and cons of his introduced technologies. How did his technologies impact the economy, society, environment, culture, and standards of living? Make sure your students marshal their arguments as quantitatively as possible.

Check out these websites for additional information and classroom projects and activities:

Have a wonderful school year and happy inventing!

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

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.

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Thomas Edison – Impact on the Music Industry

1903 ad for the Edison phonograph

1903 ad for the Edison phonograph

Back in the 1870s, if you wanted to hear music, it was basically a communal experience. You went to hear a concert, attended a school auditorium or show hall to hear and see a production, or perhaps you gathered around a gazebo on a warm summer night to hear popular tunes of the time.

Along comes Thomas Edison who makes a practical, affordable, and portable device to record and play music, and allow you to enjoy it all by yourself if you so desire. For all purposes, the great inventor “decentralizes” music, decoupling it from a group experience. Does this sound vaguely familiar? It should.

iPods and other personal listening devices do this too, decoupling people from radios that are electromagnetically linked to broadcasting stations, and allow you to store huge amounts of songs for play on demand…without the need to carry tapes, discs and other old bulky forms of storage media.

To this day, in his legendary West Orange labs, Edison’s original recording studio can be seen—the world’s first recording studio. It sits directly above his iconic library/office. There the great singers of the time, operatic and popular, came to record their music for sale by Mr. Edison. [see photos below]

Edison recording studio today

Edison recording studio today

Invention factory with location of recording studio indicated by blue lines

Invention factory with location of recording studio indicated by blue lines

It was truly an art form to situate the instruments and singers around a recording horn for optimal sound reproduction, with lots of trial and error. No way to change the volume of sound like we do today via simple electronic controls; and certainly no mixing consoles to blend sound tracks. Sound mixing would have to wait until musical innovators like Les Paul [the man who also gave us the electric guitar] came along…100 years later.

Take a look at the photo below of a large group of musicians crowded around a recording horn to get the instrument sounds all into the small horn. It was a tough way to make music back then. Today, 140 years later we have a robust industry we all enjoy…..but it all started with a recording studio on the third floor of Thomas Edison’s magic invention factory, an entrepreneur’s dream come true.

A private off-site recording session-with musicians crowded in close to recording horn

A private off-site recording session-with musicians crowded in close to recording horn

“Of all my inventions, I liked the phonograph best….” -Thomas Edison

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.

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Thomas Edison’s Cars Get a Needed Lift

Visiting the Thomas Edison garage at the Glenmont home estate is a treat for many visitors each year. On a good day, over 200 members of the public enjoy the vintage cars-in particular, the electric cars that used Edison’s famous nickel-iron alkaline storage batteries. Recently these cars were conserved and given much needed cleaning and primping.

Shown below is the 1914 Detroit Electric Model 47, the preferred vehicle of Mrs. Edison. Folks marvel at its “teapot” shaped appearance. In the day, this well-recognized vehicle was seen traversing Essex County on various philanthropic and social missions as Mrs. Edison “gave back” to her fellow citizens. She often served on many committees and working groups engaged in charities, education, and other important issues of the day. She and her vehicle epitomized the independent “home executive”.

1914 Model 47 electric vehicle

1914 Model 47 electric vehicle

Behind the vehicle, to the left as shown above, is the battery charging station Thomas built in 1908—and today, perhaps the oldest garage-based charging station in existence (and we think charging a modern electric vehicle in a garage is something new)! The Model 47 has three on-board battery compartments; one forward, one rear and one underneath for auxiliary applications like headlamps, clock and perhaps some heating for the interior. It was advertised as having a range of 80 miles, at a speed of 20 mph.

Below is the 1911 Detroit Electric L-1 vehicle, the forerunner of the Model 47. Many photos exist of Thomas being driven in this vehicle by either Mrs. Edison, his then young sons, or laboratory assistants. The great inventor was a not a very good driver, often making contact with ditches and trees! He soon became content with sitting peacefully and thinking up new ideas, while being driven around safely by others.

1911 Model L-1 electric vehicle (front and side view)

1911 Model L-1 electric vehicle (front and side view)

Notice the absence of a steering wheel (the same for the 1914 model too). Dual “tillers” were used: the lower one for steering the front wheels right or left; the upper tiller for acceleration. This took some getting used to, and may have been what caused Mr. Edison trouble when he drove. The upper tiller is an adaptation of the “Johnson Bar”, borrowed from locomotive design.

Full steering wheel capability becomes evident in the 1922 Ford Model T, also on display in the garage; and shown below alongside a beautiful 1936 Ford-Brewster owned by Thomas’s son Charles when he was Governor of NJ. Notice the incredible technology and styling changes between the 1922 Model T and the 1936 Brewster.

The Brewster has a 65 Hp, V-8 engine [the famous flathead Ford V-8], and with its rejuvenated internals is capable of 100 mph. The Model T had a 4 cylinder, 20 Hp engine with a top speed of about 45 mph; but it also had a multi-fuel surprise built in….the little engine could burn gasoline, kerosene, or alcohol!

1922 Model T (right) alongside a 1936 Ford Brewster

1922 Model T (right) alongside a 1936 Ford Brewster

The entire first floor of the garage, walls and ceiling, have been freshened as well to show the Edison concrete used to build this magnificent structure. The same Edison concrete formulation used here is what was used to build the original Yankee Stadium in the 1920s.

The Edison Innovation Foundation www.thomasedison.org is now raising money to convert the second floor of this building into an educational facility for the many students and teachers who visit to learn about Edison and his role in creating the very popular STEM educational philosophy and team-based problem solving.

Did you know?
In 1914:

  • 38% of all the cars on the road were electric; 22% gasoline, 40% steam powered.
  • Average annual wage was about $625. Cost of Model 47 was about $3,700.

Thomas Edison said, “I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent …”

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.

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