Thomas Edison Chronology: A Life in Numbers

Thomas Edison

1847: February 11 – born at Milan, Ohio, son of Samuel and Nancy Elliott Edison.

1854: Edison family moved to Port Huron, Michigan.

1859: A newsboy and “candy butcher” on the train of the Grand Trunk Railway, running between Port Huron and Detroit.

1862: Printed and published a newspaper, “The Weekly Herald,” on the train – the first newspaper ever printed on a moving train.

1862: August – saved from death the young son of J.U. MacKenzie, Station Agent at Mt. Clemens, Michigan.  In gratitude, the father taught Edison telegraphy.

1863: Began a five-year period during which he served as a telegraph operator in various cities of the Central Western States, always studying and experimenting to improve apparatus.

1868: Made his first patented invention – the Electrical Vote Recorder. Application for patent signed October 11, 1868.

1869: Landed in New York City, poor and in debt.  Shortly afterwards, looking for work, was in operating room of the Gold Indicator Company when its apparatus broke down.  No one but Edison could fix it and he was given a job as superintendent.

1869: October – established a partnership with Franklin L. Pope as electrical engineers.

1870: Received his first money for an invention – $40,000 paid him by The Gold and Stock Telegraph Company for his stock ticker.  Opened a manufacturing shop in Newark where he made stock tickers and telegraph instruments.

1871: Assisted Christopher L. Sholes, the inventor of the typewriter, in making first successful working model.

1872: Began a four-year period during which he conducted manufacturing of telegraph instruments for Western Union Telegraph Company and Automatic Telegraph Company.  He had several shops during this time in Newark, New Jersey.  He worked on and completed many inventions, including the motograph, automatic telegraph system, duplex, quadruplex, sextuplex and multiplex telegraph systems; also paraffin paper and the carbon rheostat.

1875: November 22 – discovered a previously unknown and unique electrical phenomenon which he called “etheric force”.  Twelve years later, this phenomenon was recognized as being due to electric waves in free space.  This discovery is the foundation of wireless telegraphy.

1876: March 7 – applied for patent on his invention of the “electric pen”.  Patent was granted August 8, same year.  Licenses covering the pen were later obtained by the A.B. Dick Company of Chicago, for the manufacture of the mimeograph.

1876: April – moved from Newark to his newly constructed laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey.  This was the first laboratory for organized industrial research.

1877: April 27 – applied for patent on the carbon telephone transmitter which made telephony commercially practicable.  This invention included the microphone which is used in radio broadcasting.

1877: August 12 – invented the phongraph.  Patent was issued by the United States Patent Office within two months after application without a single reference.

1878: September 8 – accompanied by Professor George F. Barker and Professor A.B. Chandler, he visited William Wallace in Ansonia, Connecticut, where he became actively interested in the problem of electric lighting.

1878: October 24 – incorporation of the Edison Electric Light Company

1879: Invented the first practical incandescent electric lamp.  The invention was perfected October 21, 1879 when the first lamp embodying the principles of the modern incandescent lamp had maintained its incandescence for more than forty hours.

1879: Invented radical improvements in construction of dynamos, making them suitable for generators for his system of distribution of current for light, heat and power.  Invented systems of distribution, regulation and measurement of electric current, including sockets, switches, fuses, etc.

1879: December 31 – gave a public demonstration of his electric lighting system in streets and buildings at Menlo Park, New Jersey.

1880: April 3 – invented the magnetic ore separator.

1880: May 13 – started operation of the first passenger electric railways in this country at Menlo Park, New Jersey.

1880: Ushered in seven strenuous years of invention and endeavor in extending and improving the electric light, heat and power systems.  During these years he took out upwards of 300 patents.  Of 1,097 patents issued to Thomas A. Edison, 356 deal with electric lighting and power distribution.


1881: March 2 – Edison arranged to open the Edison Machine Works at 104 Goerck Street, New York City.

1882: January 12 – opened the first commercial incandescent lighting and power station at Holborn Viaduct, London, England.

1882: May 1 – moved the first commercial incandescent lamp factory from Menlo Park to Harrison, New Jersey.  Organized and established shops for the manufacture of dynamos, underground conductors, sockets, switches, fixtures, meters, etc.

1882: September 4 – commenced the operation of the first commercial central station for incandescent lighting in this country at 257 Pearl Street, New York City.

1883: Discovered a previously unknown phenomenon.  He found that an independent wire or plate, placed between the legs of the filament of an incandescent lamp, acted as a valve to control the flow of current.  This became known as the “Edison Effect”.  This discovery covers the fundamental principle on which rests the modern science of electronics.

1885: March 27 – patent executed on a system for communicating by means of wireless induction telegraphy between moving trains and railway stations.

1885: May 14 – patent executed on a ship-to-shore wireless telegraphy system, by induction.

1886: December – moved plant of Edison Machine Works from 104 Goerck Street, New York City, to Schnectady, New York.

1887: November 24 – moved his laboratory to West Orange.  During      the first four years of his occupancy of his West Orange laboratory, he took out over eighty patents on improvements on the cylinder phonograph.

1889: October 6 – first projection of an experimental motion picture.

1894: April 14 – first commercial showing of motion pictures took place with the opening of a “peephole” Kinetoscope parlor at 1155 Broadway, New York.

1896: Experimented with the X-ray discovered by Roentgen in 1895.  Developed the fluoroscope which invention Mr. Edison did not patent, choosing to leave it to public domain because of its universal need in medicine and surgery.

1896: May 16 – applied for a patent on the first fluorescent electric lamp.  This invention sprang directly from his work on the fluoroscope.

1900: This year marked the beginning of a ten-year period of work which resulted in the invention of the Edison nickel-iron-alkaline storage battery and its commercial introduction.

1901: Commenced construction on the Edison cement plant at New Village, New Jersey, and started quarrying operations at nearby Oxford.

1902: Worked on improving the Edison copper oxide primary battery.

1907: Developed the universal electric motor for operating dictating machines on either alternating or direct current.

1910: This year initiated a four-year period of work on improving the disc phonograph.

1913: Introduced the Kinetophone for talking motion pictures, after spending much time on its development.

1914: October 13 – patent executed on electric safety lanterns which are used by miners for working lights.  These miners’ lamps have contributed in an important degree to the reduction of mine fatalities.

1914: Developed a process for the manufacture of synthetic carbolic acid.  Designed a plant, and within a month was producing a ton a day to help overcome the acute shortage due to World War I.

1914: Invented the Telescribe, combining the telephone and the dictating phonograph.

1915: Established plants for the manufacture of fundamental coal-tar derivatives vital to many industries previously dependent on foreign sources. These coal-tar products were needed later for the production of wartime explosives. Mr. Edison’s work in this field is recognized as having paved the way for the important development of the coal-tar chemical industry in the United States today.

1915: Became President of the Naval Consulting Board, at the request of Josephus Daniels, then Secretary of the Navy. During the war years, he did a large amount of work connected with national defense, particularly with reference to special experiments on over forty major war problems for the United States Government. At that time the late President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

1923: Made a study of economic conditions, the result of which was published in a pamphlet in 1924, when Mr. Edison presented to the Secretary of the Treasury a proposed amendment to the Federal Reserve Banking System.

1928: October 20 – presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor by Andrew W. Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury.

1929: October 21 – commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the incandescent lamp and in the presence of President Hoover, Henry Ford and other world leaders, Mr. Edison re-enacted the making of the first practical incandescent lamp.

1931: October 18 – died at Llewellyn Park, West Orange, New Jersey at the age of eighty-four.


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