Thomas Edison – Humanitarian

In 1996, Life Magazine proclaimed Thomas Edison the “Man of the Millennium’ … not the decade or century, but the millennium-1,000 years! That is a very bold statement, not spoken lightly. Recently, Time magazine has also lavishly spoken of the relevance and importance of Thomas Edison.

Thomas Edison - HumanitarianHis exploits and value to the American economy and society are legendary-the man who gave us motion pictures, phonograph, the light bulb and electric power industry, vastly improved telephones, and commercial R&D labs that Fortune 500 companies use to give birth to an endless march of new products. He is the man most associated with technology based progress. Many years after the creation of these products his accomplishments are still responsible for one-tenth of our gross national product today, as well as about one-fourth of all the jobs on the planet.

Digging a bit deeper into Edison the man, there is much to learn about his humanity, starting with this quote:

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

This is a powerful message for peace through prosperity, linking technological progress and society’s well-being, something Edison felt viscerally.

“The world owes nothing to any man, but every man owes something to the world.”

How many realize his other humanitarian efforts like:

  • Philanthropic activities engaged in by he and his dear wife Mina, spanning the gamut from civic to national causes, especially education
  • Work during WWI with the US Navy to reduce the impacts of the German U-boat scourge
  • Loaning free of charge his patents to Marconi to begin the development of radio telegraphy/wireless and later radio
  • Allowing the free use of his fluoroscope patent(s) for medical use
  • Promoting the use of solar energy [as early as 1910] as a new energy resource

“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.”

  • Biomass farming to develop plant species for making artificial rubber
  • Use of natural materials in his inventions as much as possible
  • Development of low cost concrete houses to address housing shortages.

And these humanitarian aspects of Edison kept on in the family:

  • Son Charles, governor of NJ, Secretary of the Navy, patron of the arts
  • Son Theodore, ardent environmentalist- like his mother Mina, protector of riparian lands in Fl and GA, and anti-war advocate
  • The Edison family gave freely and generously of themselves to the country.

And after Thomas Edison’s death, his family gave his invention factory and their Glenmont home to the American people, to celebrate Dad’s work and as a classroom for future entrepreneurs. Humanitarian principles ran deep in the Edison family.

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “My main purpose in life is to make enough money to create ever more inventions … The dove is my emblem … I want to save and advance human life, not destroy it … I am proud of the fact that I have never invented weapons to kill …“

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

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1 Comment

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