Happy Birthday Thomas Edison!

Happy Birthday Thomas Edison!

This February 11th marks the 165th birthday [1847-1931] of the world’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison, the Man of the Millennium as Life magazine once proclaimed him. In July 2010, TIME magazine [see photo at bottom] devoted its cover to the great inventor, with feature articles inside extolling his relevance today.

This year is also the 135th anniversary of the phonograph, what Edison termed his most favorite invention.

“…I’ve made some machines; but this is my baby, and I expect it to grow up to be a big feller and support me in my old age.”

Happy Birthday Thomas Edison! His name is synonymous with creativity, invention and entrepreneurship. Engineering organizations hold annual national Engineering Week celebrations around his birthday. Invention societies often induct new members this time of year. The highly popular STEM programs in schools today draw heavily on his inter-disciplinary, multi-dimensional way of solving R&D problems and new product development…the very basis of Edison’s invention factory, later to become our national, academic and corporate R&D labs. His tear drop-shaped light bulb is a universal icon of the bright new idea, something no compact florescent bulb will ever replace.

Edison died in 1931, but his incredible legacy lives on to continue benefiting mankind. The annual economic value to the nation, from his major industrial innovations of R&D labs, electric light and power, recorded sound and motion pictures, has been estimated at approximately $1.5 trillion… 10% of our current gross domestic product.

The hand-held device we all carry around, our cell phone or smart phone, is a testament to Edison, for inside is recorded sound, motion pictures…and when it gets tired from overuse, we plug it into Edison’s model of the electric utility system. He is in everyone’s pocket, purse, or coat, never far from the people he valued the most…..the customer. [Check out Edison TV]

Two of his accidental laboratory “scientific discoveries”, while not made into memorable Edison inventions, were duly recorded in his lab notebooks, later to become the basis for radio-telegraphy (wireless), vacuum tubes, and radio. His visionary work on electric vehicles back in the early 1900s astutely anticipated where gasoline-powered cars would take us….over-dependence on oil, and polluted cities.

GE charging stations for street use; GE® is a registered trademark of General Electric

GE charging stations for street use; GE® is a registered trademark of General Electric

In his later years, Edison’s recognition of the potential of solar and wind energy is found today on every solar/wind equipment supplier’s website.

“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.”

What remains so inspirational in the minds of inventors the world over is Edison’s indomitable spirit and acceptance of failure as a necessary way of life, an opportunity to learn and profit from … a kind of “fail your way to success” credo that suffuses the late night hours of all inventors … when the chips seem down and success appears to be a long way off—that never give up spirit that has come to characterize what we used to call “Yankee ingenuity”. That is what Thomas Edison represents, the rugged individual, a fierce self-determination and drive we all harbor deep within, the American spirit, that Horatio Alger story writ large, visceral, palpable. One can only guess how many of our nation’s almost 8 million patents are a direct testimony to Edison’s inspirational impact on the patent holders. It’s there, and every year as students come to see his legendary West Orange Labs, you can spot that twinkle in their young eyes, that … “I am going to be just like him” … look. Tom is alive and well, and we are all better for it.

Thomas Edison on Time Magazine“My desire is to do everything within my power to free people from drudgery and create the largest measure of happiness and prosperity.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc
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Edison’s Valuable Memorabilia Celebrates His Vision

Thomas Edison memorabilia and antiques are always good sellers, whether in private transactions or bid situations like on eBay or other forums. Memories of the great inventor are highly collectible. Recently, at auction, a 1911 photo of Edison, bearing his handwritten note and signature, went for over $31,554. The photo had been estimated to have a $5,000 value, so passion for the man’s memorabilia had clearly dominated the bidding. This photo [below] shows Edison cradling his famous nickel-iron, alkaline storage battery; and bearing the note, “I believe time will prove that the Alkaline Storage Battery will produce important changes in our present transportation systems.” The signature at the bottom is known as the famous Edison umbrella signature.

Edison’s Valuable Memorabilia Celebrates His Vision

According to Associated Press who reported this story, the photo was the property of Walter Holland, who worked with Edison on the battery and published his lab reports on the project. Holland was appointed chief electrical engineer of the Edison Storage Battery Company in West Orange, N.J., in January 1911. The photo is dated May 4 of that year.

At the time of this photo, Edison was involved with championing electric vehicles and their batteries as a clean alternative to gasoline powered cars, and of course the ubiquitous horse. Work on this battery, which became one of the most versatile products ever produced by Edison, had been a long and tedious affair, with many failures, and requiring tens of thousands of experiments. His work on this technology is believed to have given birth to one of his famous quotes, “I have not failed 10,000 times, I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” His work on the battery system had begun in the 1890s.

Edison’s Valuable Memorabilia Celebrates His Vision

His rugged batteries also are a popular item that folks collect. These products were used in miner’s hats, lighting railway cars, railway signals, maritime buoys, by the ARMY and Navy and merchant marine and in other applications. It was a forerunner of the durable alkaline batteries we use today. At his West Orange site there was a huge building devoted to nothing but the manufacture of these batteries. In his garage at his nearby home, Glenmont, visitors can see the electric vehicles [and his famous batteries] he and his wife Mina used—as well as one of the first garage-based electric vehicle charging stations he had integrated into the building, exactly what we are talking about today for our garages, but accomplished by Edison in 1908.

Edison’s Valuable Memorabilia Celebrates His Vision

Here we sit 100 years later, promoting the use of electric and hybrid vehicles as a way to reduce our dependence upon foreign oil. Old Tom as usual was right on the money when he speculated back then that we would run out of oil. This technology also fit in nicely with his philosophy about using clean alternate forms of energy like solar and wind. You have got to love the vision of this man, an American original!

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

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.
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