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Thomas Edison – Interesting Facts

Young Tom, 1878, the year of his phonograph patent.

Young Tom, 1878, the year of his phonograph patent.

Readers always enjoy interesting facts about Edison, so here are some to ponder.

Edison nicknamed two of his children he had with his first wife “Dot” and “Dash” in honor of his early telegraph days.

Edison’s first patent was for the Electrographic Vote-Recorder, which was granted by the U.S. patent Office on June 1, 1869. At the time, Edison was 22.

Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the wireless telegraph, was Edison’s friend. He used the patents made available by Edison for his invention of the wireless telegraph.

Today’s General Electric Company was originally founded as the Edison Electric Light Company by Thomas Alva Edison to market his incandescent lamp and other electrical products.

At his legendary West Orange facility, (opened in 1887) Edison combines invention and manufacturing, creating the integrated manufacturing facility….. from rail-delivered raw materials to finished products for sale…with R&D labs as the inspiration for new product development. In 1910, he employed 10,000 workers on a manufacturing complex comprised of over 40 buildings, on 25 acres of land, to make his products for sale around the world.

Friends and camping buddies-Edison, John Burroughs (famed environmentalist) and Henry Ford posing in Ft. Myers, Fl.

Friends and camping buddies-Edison, John Burroughs (famed environmentalist) and Henry Ford posing in Ft. Myers, Fl.

Edison is responsible for creating the first re-chargeable alkaline storage battery—his famous nickel-iron battery, originally intended for the electric vehicle market; but expanded to include many other applications…quite likely his most prolific product.

In 1929, Edison was given one of the first honorary Academy Awards for his work in founding the motion picture industry. This celebration marked the approximate 40-year anniversary of the original motion picture achievements of Edison, and his building of the first motion picture studio—the Black Maria.

After leaving school at an early age, Thomas Edison was essentially home-schooled by his mother, who was actually a formally trained normal school teacher, then unemployed and caring for her family. She gave him four great things to remember and profit by:

  1. Do not be afraid to fail. Keep trying, learn from failure; and try again.

  2. It is OK to work with your hands and your head. Not everything important comes from books. Experience the world and learn from it.

  3. Read across the entire span of literature, not just what you like.

  4. Never stop learning, keep improving yourself.

 

Edison in his chemistry lab at West Orange- a picture of confidence and command.

Edison in his chemistry lab at West Orange- a picture of confidence and command.

Motion pictures, according to Edison in a prominent magazine interview, would be the new way to teach classroom students. This he proclaimed way back in 1911. Today with the advent of the Internet and smart boards, movies are commonplace in the classroom.

Today we boast how iPods and other recording devices free listeners from radio stations, practically decentralizing music. Edison did this originally with his phonograph which decentralized having to listen to music only from a live band or concert.

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Thomas Edison said, “If I were a school teacher, I would put lazy pupils to studying bees and ants. They would soon learn to be diligent.”

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 World Value

>Many people ask what was Edison’s value to the world. This is a popular question, especially among teachers and students.

Think first about what his four major inventions have done for our standards of living worldwide—recorded sound, motion pictures, electric light bulb and utility system, and R&D labs. Just these alone substantially changed our world. In 1996, Life magazine proclaimed him the “Man of the Millennium”. Let that sink in. That is the man of the last 1,000 years. Today is 2018. One-thousand years ago was 1018. What was the world and society like back then?

Thomas Edison’s legendary West Orange Labs where on 25 acres of land, 10,000 employees worked with the great inventor to change the world! Most of the buildings on the site were built using his special concrete.

Thomas Edison’s legendary West Orange Labs where on 25 acres of land, 10,000 employees worked with the great inventor to change the world! Most of the buildings on the site were built using his special concrete.

Thomas Edison died in 1931. His great inventions together represent 10% of the world’s gross national product; and since the world economy is about $60 trillion annually, Edison’s achievements today represent approximately $6 trillion worldwide. To further put this in perspective, the U.S. gross national product is about $20 trillion annually.

Consider what other economists have claimed about this man…..his achievements are probably responsible for one-fourth of all the current jobs on the planet. Since there now are about three billion jobs on planet Earth, that would mean 775,000,000 jobs are directly attributable to the genius of Edison and his system of turning raw ideas into marketable products. And there is the key….his system. Edison is the ultimate process guy, project manager extraordinaire, who reduces innovation to a series of simple steps, actually codifying the innovation process of the late 1800s into a technology-driven, team-based method of making new products. It does not matter which technology you chose to innovate upon, the steps are the same….a process for all time, as fresh today as at the inception of his invention factory (his early term for R&D labs).

Arguably the greatest building in the Thomas Edison pantheon, and to the world economy….the Edison invention factory….the first commercial R&D lab.

Arguably the greatest building in the Thomas Edison pantheon, and to the world economy….the Edison invention factory….the first commercial R&D lab.

This paradigm leads to commercial R&D Labs-which every major company in the world duplicates from Edison’s legendary West Orange Labs before he dies in 1931. It is copied at the federal level during World War II to counter the German U-boat threat; leads to the first national lab (U.S. Naval Research Lab), a model for the Manhattan Project during WWI and all the national labs that follow. Last year, the United States spent over $500 billion on research lab activity at all levels – private companies, academia, and federal labs.

In closing, consider how nationally the schools are revamping the middle school curricula to include studying what Thomas Edison did at West Orange. Students are investigating project design challenges using head and hands, and team-based activities to solve real-world problems. We call this curricula STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math; and it is sweeping the nation and world. Teachers know the value of STEM and they are coming in record numbers with their students to the Thomas Edison National Historical Park [TENHP] in West Orange to learn about it.

Inside the invention factory is what can be considered the “first maker-lab”, Edison’s heavy machine shop, where prototypes were made and later tested. Today our children through their STEM programs have maker labs to make their 3D prototypes.

Thomas Edison is as relevant to today as he was when he started changing the world. His principles for change are dynamic, and continue to inspire today and future generations of inventors and entrepreneurs. At TENHP we now reach out to schools around the world using advanced telecommunication techniques allowing students and teacher around the world to enjoy a guided tour of the invention factory from the comfort of their classrooms. Thomas Edison would love this!

Thomas Edison said, “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”

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 – Citizen of the World

During his life, Thomas Edison had the most recognizable face in the world when newspapers and magazines were the chief forms of mass communication. He was sought after for interviews, quotes or news stories about his latest inventions. Even today, his famous quotes are still requested by folks wanting to know more about the great inventor. Consider this quote…

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left.”

In light of what is happening in the worldwide application of solar technology today, it is indeed sobering to realize he made this quote way back in 1910…..almost 110 years ago!

There are museums and memorials to Mr. Edison around the world. In Kyoto, Japan there is a beautiful stone memorial to electric lighting, celebrating how Kyoto was the source of bamboo used in early Edison light bulb filaments.

Edison Memorial in Kyoto Japan

Edison Memorial in Kyoto Japan

Kokichi Mikimoto, inventor of cultured pearls, was a big fan of Edison. He met the great American inventor in 1927, whereupon Mr. Edison praised the quality and beauty of Mikimoto pearls. Today, these pearls are a worldwide sensation. In Japan, Edison is ranked number three when Japanese citizens are asked to identify popular historical figures. In China, Thomas Edison is often ranked first in surveys as to who is the best known American personality.

Edison’s achievements and technology were often featured at various national and international demonstrations and expositions. One especially noteworthy one was the Paris Exposition of 1889 which featured Edison electrical equipment. While here, Edison and his lovely wife Mina took in the sights, with Edison visiting the Eiffel Tower with the designer George Eiffel.

Thomas Edison Paris Exposition Display in 1889

Thomas Edison Paris Exposition Display in 1889

Many countries celebrate Mr. Edison’s legacy of achievement by teaching their students about him; sometimes even more intensely than in American schools. Every year, the legendary Edison Labs in West Orange hosts visitors from around the world who come to learn about their favorite inventor. In the last 10 years, visitors from Holland, England, Germany, Russia, Australia, Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and Southeast Asia have come to see his West Orange labs.

Many professional organizations have named science, technology, invention and achievement awards after the great inventor.

Thomas Edison said, “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”

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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