Author Archives: Edison Innovation Foundation

6 Thomas Edison Inventions You’ve Never Heard Of

The total number of Thomas Edison patents during his lifetime was 2,332; 1093 domestic patents and 1239 foreign patents. Among those patents were the incandescent light bulb and phonograph…but did you know Edison also invented some interesting items in the areas of food, furniture, and toys? Read on to see how his creative ideas touched all areas of our daily life…

1) Edison’s Method of Preserving Fruit

Thomas Edison’s patent for vacuum-sealed fruit preservation

In 1881, Edison filed for a patent for a method to preserve fruits, vegetables or other organic substances in a glass vessel. The vessel was filled with the items to be preserved, and then all the air was sucked from it with an air pump. The vessel tube was sealed with another piece of glass. This invention came about from his work with vacuum pumps while developing long-life incandescent light bulbs.

2) Edison’s Concrete Furniture

Thomas Edison’s budget-friendly concrete phonograph cabinets

Made with air-impregnated foam to keep the weight at only one-and-a-half times that of wooden furniture, Edison’s line of concrete furnishings would be sanded and smoothed into a mirror-like finish or stained to look like wood grain. He claimed he could furnish an entire house for less than $200. In 1911, Edison’s company molded a piano, bathtub and cabinets that could house Edison’s phonographs.

3) Thomas Edison’s Talking Dolls

Thomas Edison’s phonograph-powered talking dolls

Patented in 1890, Edison developed miniature phonographs and inserted them into dolls. The phonograph was enclosed in a tin casing that comprised the doll’s chest, then pre-made arms and legs were attached, along with a bisque head made in Germany. The talking dollies sold for about $10. 

4) Edison’s Telephone Greeting – “Hello”

Thomas Edison speaking on the phone at this desk

In 1877, Thomas Edison first suggested using the word “hello.” Before this, telephone users would often pick up the phone with phrases like, “Do I get you?” and, “Are you there?” But Edison found “hello” to be much more efficient, and the word caught on quickly — much to the dismay of Alexander Graham Bell. The inventor of the telephone preferred using the seafarer’s phrase “ahoy” to begin a conversation instead.

5) Edison’s Edicraft Speed Toaster

Thomas Edison’s speed toaster

In the 1920’s, Edison’s company released a line luxury kitchen appliances, one of which was the automatic toaster. Many cheaper toasters were being invented and sold around this time, but what made these unique was that it used two compartments for the toast that opened automatically when it was done, instead of the springs popping the bread up. It was marketed for its speed – Toasting 2 slices of bread at once to the degree of toasted you set it at (and never burning)!

6) The “Edison” Effect AKA Thermionic Emission

Thomas Edison’s discovery of thermionic emission

In the early 1880’s, Edison discovered what is known today as thermionic emission, as a by-product of his work with improving early incandescent light bulbs. He patented the “Edison Effect” and actually used it as part of his first electric utility system in NYC. However, later this discovery became the basis for the diode and triode vacuum tubes that lead to modern technology we know today like radio, televisions and even phones!


Notre Dame Embraces Edison’s Electric Lighting

Colleges love to boast about their accomplishments whether they be sports teams, or something to do with famous alumni. Notre Dame has a very interesting and historic boast-the first college to electrically light its campus buildings. 

The Gold Dome of Notre Dame illuminated

And the story about electrifying the campus does not end here, for Thomas Edison donated the electric generator that made illumination possible!

September 1885 marks 3 years to the month when Edison first launched his central station power system in New York City, thus the Notre Dame system was essentially a miniature of the New York system. Of note, Notre Dame had employed arc lighting in its recreation field way back in 1881!

The first electric lights were installed in September 1885, in the corridors and study halls of the Main Building. The next month, the starry crown of the statue of Our Lady on the Dome and the crescent at her feet were illuminated, an electric beacon for distant observers. So pleased was the college that Father Walsh arranged to have nearly all the buildings lighted with electricity.

The soft incandescent illumination proved cleaner, brighter, and steadier than anything else previously tried-and much easier on the eyes. Two to six lights adorned the rooms, hung from the ceiling with handsome silk covered wires that supplied the current.

Eventually, the electric lights would replace gas lighting in the Main Building, Science Hall, the Academy of Music, and St. Edward’s Hall. They would be used most successfully in parlors, lecture halls, study halls, lecture rooms as well as in private rooms of professors and students. Almost 700 lights were used. Especially attractive and exciting for attendees was the lighted auditorium in the Music Hall, with a tiered seating of 500. Necessary support equipment for this multi-building system, including the generator, motor, and engine were housed in its own dedicated building.

As reported in the school’s newspaper, The Notre Dame Scholastic (circa 1886), “The light has been the subject of universal admiration to visitors, and of the general satisfaction to all connected with the College; the name Edison is now ‘found in their mouths’ as household word(s).”


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