How Homeschooling Paved the Way for Thomas Edison’s Success

In 2020-21, there were about 3.7 million homeschool students in grades K-12 in the United States. This number has been growing consistently over the last few years, but it grew drastically when the pandemic hit in 2019. Some benefits to this flourishing form of education are the personalization of curriculum, flexible schedules and the ability to learn at your own pace. However, many homeschoolers also reap the benefits of higher standardized test scores and are more likely to succeed in their higher education.

Just ask Thomas Edison, the poster child for homeschooling in the 1850’s. Edison was home schooled by his mother, Nancy Elliot Edison. Through a great deal of nurturing and leadership, she gave him basic tools he needed to learn and empowered him to explore.

Nancy Elliot Edison, Thomas Edison’s Mother and Homeschool Teacher

Edison’s mother encouraged him to have both a head and hands approach to learning, allowing him to have his own laboratory in their small basement…a place where his father became quite concerned as various small explosions and strange smells emanated. Edison obviously learned differently from the standard learning environment of the times. For Edison, it was fundamentally necessary to work hands-on and have the freedom for creativity, and to think critically about the world around him. This is not unlike the STEM principles that are taught in school today!

Edison believed in homeschooling so much that he made sure all of his own children were also educated that way. He was sure to use the same life-long pillars of learning that he mother instilled in him:

  1. Don’t be afraid to fail, keep trying, and learn from your mistakes
  2. Read across the entire span of literature, not just what you like
  3. Work with your hands and learn from life, not all important things come from books
  4. Never stop learning and improving yourself.

In later years, a grown and very successful Edison acknowledged that his mother’s discipline was responsible for his great success. He once said, “I did not have my mother long, but she cast over me an influence which has lasted all my life. The good effects of her early training I can never lose. If it had not been for her appreciation and faith in me at a critical time, I should very likely never have been an inventor.My mother was the making of me.”


Who was Thomas Edison’s Inventor Son, Theodore Edison?

Theodore Edison was born at Glenmont, New Jersey home of the Edison family, on July 10, 1898, the son of Thomas Edison. He was named after Mina Edison, beloved brother, who had just died in the Spanish-American War. He also was the last living child of Thomas Edison before Thomas’ death at 93 years old.

As a child, Theodore was called “the little laboratory assistant” by the family. He showed an early interest in science and performed many experiments at Glenmont. Thomas Edison said, “Theodore is a good boy, but his forte is mathematics. I am a little afraid. . . he may go flying off into the clouds with that fellow Einstein.”

Theodore Edison, Edison’s youngest child, as a young boy via NPS

He went on to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), from which he earned his physics degree in 1923, being the only member of the Edison family to graduate from college.

Despite Edison’s worries, Theodore did work for his father’s company after graduation. Starting as an ordinary lab assistant, he worked his way up to Technical Director of Research and Engineering for Thomas A. Edison, Inc.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Theodore earned over 80 patents in his career. His first independent patent, in 1932, was for a device that worked to eliminate vibration in machinery!

He married Anna Maria Osterhout in 1925, a graduate of Vassar. Theodore also went on to open his own engineering consulting firm, Calibron Industries, Inc., and built his own smaller laboratory in West Orange. They were the original producers of the “Calibron 12”, a difficult puzzle for adults to test their minds and also a very clever marketing ploy to promote his company’s name.

In his later years, Theodore began to follow in his mother’s footsteps and became an ardent environmentalist; as well as an opponent of the Vietnam War and advocate of Zero Population Growth.

Theodore Edison hiking in the Grand Tetons, on his 1939 trip to 4 National Parks out west via NPS

In fact, he is responsible for preserving most of the beautiful Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine. Theodore began purchasing many plots of land as they became available when he heard of plans to divide, build and sell the Island where he spent many summers as a child in the wilderness. In 1954, he donated all of this land to a Trust, the Monhegan Associates, with their promise to preserve them in years to come. That Trust still protects the woods and headlands today (which makes up about three quarters of the island) and Theodore is buried there with his wife.

Theodore Edison admiring his beloved Monhegan Islands, where he is buried with his wife via The Cracked Monhegan


10 Thomas Edison Quotes on Education to Start Your School Year

A new school year is an exciting time for students and teachers alike. What new things will I learn this year? What new challenges will I face? How can this year be better than the ones before? The possibilities are endless!

Thomas Edison and Education

Thomas Edison’s own experience with education affected many of his opinions on it. Although Edison received some honorary college degrees later in his life, he never really had a formal education but believed that you should start early and never stop learning throughout your life.

When it came to education, his home school experience taught him the value of learning by doing and reading a large variety of books, not just the things that you are interested in. He also was a big proponent of using the motion picture in the classroom (think documentaries and Youtube lessons!). The quotes from Thomas Edison below will remind you of that inherent love for discovery that really drives success, in school and beyond.

Quotes about Education and the Power of Learning

1. “There are two things a man should do: Obtain an education…and never mind the clock. He may miss many social engagements, but it is a sure road to success.”

2. “[Education should begin] the younger the better, in fact he cannot begin too young. The earlier the sense or instinct of scientific investigation is made part of his education the better for his after success. Our early habits duly crop out in our after life.”

3. “Books are good to show the theory of things, but doing the thing itself is what counts.”

Thomas Edison on books and learning by doing

4. “Give [students] problems to work out that will make them think for themselves.”

5. “What we should have is education by demonstration.”

6. “The educational value of the moving picture is, and will be, enormous…Through these mediums the great masses of the people can have the advantages of the rich man.”

7. “[One day] they’ll do all the teaching by moving pictures. Every bit of it.”

Thomas Edison on using videos in the classroom

8. “Interest and simplicity should be the keynotes of all education, I believe. It is impossible to fascinate young minds with dull complexities.”

9. “What is college? An institute of learning. What is business? An institute of learning. Life, itself, is an institute of learning.”

10. “Education isn’t play…and it can’t be made to look like play. It is hard, hard work. But it can be made interesting work.”

Thomas Edison on hard work and education

What’s your favorite education quote?

If you love to use quotes to motivate yourself and/or your students, you’re not alone. You can pass along these tidbits of knowledge in class, sending a link to this blog, or by sharing on social media.

You can also discover more Edison quotes about science, success and hark work on our website here.


Thomas Edison Would Have Admired Tesla’s Lithium-Ion Batteries

In the early 1900’s Thomas Edison was making and selling his Nickel-Iron storage battery for cars and other devices. Today, Elon Musk makes Lithium-ion batteries to power his Tesla Model S car.

Trays of original Nickel-Iron batteries for use in an electric vehicle. About 56 of these were needed to run an Edison era electric vehicle.

The diagram below shows how over 7,100 relatively small Lithium-ion batteries are connected to power a Telsa. Notice the size of the batteries are similar in size to a standard AA battery! Other car manufacturers may use a flat battery configuration, stacked in vertical sheets.

Diagram of Lithium-ion batteries in a Tesla Model 8 electric car

Today, lithium containing batteries are chosen for their high energy densities, that is their ability to store large amounts of energy per unit weight. For an electric vehicle, higher energy densities mean greater vehicle range. Typically, Lithium-ion batteries can store 100-260 watt hours per kilogram; a big improvement over Edison’s nickel-iron battery at 20-45 watt hours per kilogram or lead acid batteries at 30-50 watt hours per kilogram. Future improvements to Lithium-ion batteries, using a solid electrolyte, could double its current storage capacity.

Edison built his battery manufacturing plant way back in 1912, but 110 years later he would love to have spent time in Musk’s battery manufacturing facility.

If you’re just as intrigued, check out this great video about how Lithium-ion batteries are constructed: