The Charles Edison Fund’s Fulfillment of its Historical Mission

The Charles Edison Fund, a direct link back the Edison family, is once again honored to fulfill its philanthropic mission, with these two examples of deserving honor.

1. Francis Ouimet (“Ouimet”) was America’s first golf hero.  Before him, golf in America was more of a curiosity than a mainstream sport and the British elite dominated the game. Ouimet was born in 1893 to a French-Canadian immigrant father and an Irish immigrant mother, into the lowest echelons of American society. With a burning passion for the game, in 1913, at the age of 20, Ouimet, an avid caddy, won the U.S. Open. His storybook triumph sent shock waves through the sporting world and proved that American golf was now equal of its rival in Britain and more importantly, that anyone could achieve success if they tried hard enough.  

Francis Ouimet victory at the 1913 U.S. Open

This story rings the “little fellow makes good” bell, reminding us of the long struggle Thomas Edison endured to become the greatest inventor in the world. The planned restoration of the Ouimet home to honor Francis’s accomplishment, motivated the Charles Edison Fund to contribute $10,000 to this effort. Poignantly, the 2022 U.S. Open was played at the very country club in Brookline MA where he won in 1913, just a short distance from his newly renovated home. This project clearly falls within the historic mission of the Charles Edison Fund and Chairman Keegan visited it recently to confirm how its funds have been allocated to the building.

2. For decades the Charles Edison Fund has honored entrepreneurs and innovators through many Edison fellowship programs, one of which is located at the Harvard Kennedy School (“KSG). Last year the choice for an Edison Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School was Alberto (“Beto”) Altamirano for his work in social innovation. Beto is founder and CEO of Irys Technologies, an AI-driven software company that allows people to seamlessly engage in meaningful community-based communications. For instance, citizens can notify government officials of needed infrastructure concerns such as potholes, broken or deteriorated infrastructure…etc. Already, 16 cities, involving 150,000 people have used this software to support citizen concerns across all socio-economic levels. Specifically, our $150,000 initial grant to KSG in December, 1992, has grown to have a base of $1,099,754 from which funds Beto’s scholarship was underwritten.

Alberto Altamirano

Working at the interface of smart cities and public policy, Beto is well- positioned to bring user-friendly technology to city dwellers, to make a difference in their lives and the health of their communities. Again, the Edison connection is strong, as Edison’s great inventions like recorded sound, telegraphy, the improved telephone and motion pictures were, like Beto’s software, based on greatly improving human communication.


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.”