Author Archives: Edison Innovation Foundation

Thomas Edison’s First Business Venture was born on a Train

A “Candy Butcher” is defined as someone who sells candy, particularly at a fair, carnival, circus, or movie theater. The term was in common use in the mid-1800s and early 1900s to refer to street vendors, often young boys, who would carry around trays of candy and other small goods to sell.

As a young boy, Thomas Edison worked as a candy butcher on the Grand Trunk Railroad trains which ran from from Port Huron to Detroit. He was also a newsboy, selling enough treats and papers together to clear a profit with his confident business demeanor, even as a young boy.

Statue and Historical Plaque celebrating Thomas Alva Edison’s work on the Grand Trunk Railroad at Port Huron

However, that wasn’t enough for young Edison. In true Edison spirit, he noticed that people on the train were just as interested in the gossip and going-ons along the train route as he was. He saw a need and took action to fill that need, right there on an empty train car!


As his first real business venture, Edison issued a weekly paper called the “The Grand Trunk Herald.” It was two pages filled with articles about lost and found, foreign news he picked up along the route, and local updates that he witnessed himself. He sold it for 3 cents a copy and only circulated to about 300 railroad men, but it was mentioned in a London paper as the only newspaper in the world published on a train.

Through this experience, Edison not only became interested in telegraphy but also began learning entrepreneurial skills such as time-management, problem-solving, creativity, and resilience at a young age. He would even go onto create a second newspaper, which wouldn’t thrive in the same way and learn how to accept failure as a component of progress. Years later when he was working to create the lightbulb, he would go onto say, “I haven’t failed — I’ve just found 10,000 that won’t work.”

Young entrepreneurs like Edison at the Thomas Edison Pitch Contest 2019

This kind of early hands-on experience is exactly what we set out to do for students around the country with the annual Thomas Edison Pitch Contest. Students in grades 4-12 are challenged to compete in this contest honoring innovation & Thomas Edison by creating inventions to solve problems that they see in the world today. Registration for the contest is completely FREE and ends on January 31, 2021. If you’re interested in learning more about the contest, click here!


How Thomas Edison Illuminated the Holidays with Christmas Lights

With Christmas rapidly approaching, it is time to hark back to 1879, the year of Edison’s light bulb patent. He liked to demonstrate the magic of his new creation and entice investors with it every chance that he got. His bulbs always garnered widespread excitement with plenty of “Oohs” and “Ahhs”. That Christmas was no different, when he decorated his Menlo Park lab with his new lights, bringing spectators from near and far to see the winter magic. Inside or out, nothing adds more of a magical accent to the Holidays than bright, colorful and soothing lights.

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Who was the Inventor they called Lady Thomas Edison?

Margaret Knight (February 14, 1838 – October 12, 1914) was an inventor who lived during the time of Thomas Edison. Like Edison, she gravitated toward technology and invention at a very young age when she was inspired to invent a factory safety device after witnessing an accident in the cotton mill where she worked. Margaret went on to accumulate many patents and inventions for industrial and everyday machines during her productive life. She and Edison even shared the same birth and death months. So who was this woman they called the “woman Edison”?

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Restoring & Protecting National Treasures at the Edison National Historical Park

It sure has been unprecedented summer. With our favorite place in the world, the Thomas Edison National Historical Park (TENHP), closed for the last few months we decided to take the opportunity to do some fun renovations that we wouldn’t normally be able to do when the courtyard filled with Edison fans…

Our latest project at TENHP has been restoring the courtyard patio space, which not only serves as the site for the Edison Pitch Contest Finals, but also serves to protect 5 million of Edison’s historical papers that are housed under it. This collection of papers is the largest in the world, with approximately 5 million (more than the Leonardo da Vinci collection). It includes the famous notebooks that Edison always carried with him, important letters of correspondence with other historical figures, and even the early doodles that generated his most famous inventions. These are only some of the files analyzed by historical professionals at the Rutgers Edison Papers Project.

Thanks to this project, park visitors will be able to safely walk, quite literally, on top of the artifacts that serve as the foundation of our country’s history…while getting a better look at the Black Maria (the world’s first recording studio) and taking a rest from a long day of learning under the new tent. 

Ready to plan your next visit to the park? As the park makes steps towards reopening completely, they have introduced new cellphone tours in the courtyard & Glenmont as well as certain buildings like the Chemical Lab and Machine Shop. To stay updated on their reopening phases, click here