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How Thomas Edison Napped His Way To Success

How Thomas Edison Napped His Way To Success

Over the last 100+ years, literary and technical professionals have talked about the diaphanous state between being awake and just drifting off to sleep….that gauzy, dream-like interval which experts call “hypnagogia.”

Creative icons like Thomas Edison, Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Walter Scott, Salvador Dalí, Edgar Allen Poe, John Kennedy, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton have credited hypnagogia and related states with enhancing their creativity. Even Aristotle talked about it.

People having a hypnagogic experience often report a floating sensation

Most people know that Edison was a cat napper, enjoying a nice, little “siesta” to recharge. Knowing about the hypnagogic state, Old Tom did what he did best, and started experimenting with it. His experiments went something like this:

  • Sit in a chair and get comfortable and quiet
  • Hold a steel ball in your hand
  • Start sleeping, relax your grip and drop the ball onto a steel surface or plate
  • Wake up and immediately record what you dreamed or experienced.

He claimed that these experiments, sometimes assisted by his staff, helped him develop some new ideas or work through existing problems.

Statue of Thomas Edison at The Edison & Ford Winter Estate in Fort Myers with a steel ball in his right hand

If you look closely at the above statue of Edison at the Fort Myers winter residence in Florida, you will notice the steel ball in his left hand to acknowledge his experimentation with hypnagogia!

Each of us have experienced these near sleep episodes but may not have understood what they meant in the creative context. Leg “jerking” as one falls asleep is one common manifestation of hypnagogia; as is perhaps hearing one’s name called, a doorbell ringing, or sudden loud sounds. Some folks may experience a kind of paralysis or even some visual effects like a shifting series of colors. We all get affected differently.

The great chemist Kekule` had a hypnagogic vision of a snake swallowing its tail to arrive at the chemical representation of a new hydrocarbon. That vision resulted in the chemical representation of the ringed molecule benzene.

Thomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.” Hypnagogia and napping were one way that he brainstormed!

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.
Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Thomas Edison Pitch Contest 2019 Winners Announced

On May 15th, the Edison Innovation Foundation and PSEG Foundation gave awards to student team finalists from across the country in their annual Thomas Edison Pitch Contest. It is the 9th year of hosting this competition, which took place at the legendary Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, NJ.

The finalist teams were chosen from 45 teams in 13 states across the country who entered our contest this year. The competition sparked more bright ideas than ever, with a record of 5 different states in the finals including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, and Oklahoma! Students from elementary school also competed for the first time.

The finalists impressed the professional judge panel of entrepreneurs, engineers, and Thomas Edison experts with their entrepreneurial pitches to win a 3D Printer and more for their schools.

Here is a summary of the awards in the elementary, middle, and high school categories:



1st Place

Team IV Comfort, Shawnee Elementary School, Easton, PA

This team created an IV bag to make children’s stays in the hospital more enjoyable and efficient. This IV Bag was built into a stuffed animal backpack for optimal portability and cuteness! In their words, the invention is meant for children to feel more comfortable in the hospital than the traditional IV Stand provides!

DSC07128.jpg2nd Place

Team Toto, RN Wilentz School, Perth Amboy, NJ

This team created an alternative energy invention called The Windergy! This turbine charger was could be placed in the grill of your car in order to charge your phone with renewable energy instead of the car’s battery. Not only would this be a sustainable energy source but it also saved damage to your car’s battery and phone!

DSC07126.jpg3rd Place

Team Sky’s the True Limit, Paxinosa Elementary School, Easton, PA

This was a team on a mission to save lives, following the major storms in the Midwest this year affecting thousands of people. This automatic raft would run on wind and solar energy, be sturdy enough to stay afloat in all weather conditions, and pick up people during a big flood until help can arrive!


Middle School

IMG_65171st Place

Team Space Daisies, The Hockaday School, Dallas, TX

The Space Daisies created an updated tools for astronauts called The Buzz Gloves. Although a version of this device is being used by NASA, this team took it a step farther creating a more cost-effective and broader interpretation for their own invention. When the astronaut touches something hard enough, the gloves will make a buzz sound and light up to prevent injury and, of course, their nails from breaking!

IMG_5617.jpg2nd Place

Team Waste Warriors,  Owasso 6th Grade Center, Owasso, OK [via Skype]

This team presented their loop filtration system over Skype! They demonstrated how their invention would take used water from a house and filter it to be used again the same house – something unheard of! Using a steam generator, this invention would make the lives of homeowners with wells easier as well as recycle energy and water.

IMG_6500.jpg3rd Place

Team Orkai, Homewise Homeschooling, Olean, NY

This team created The Spinno, an enjoyable way to do accomplish your arthritis exercises! After doing a lot of trials with their own grandparents, the team developed a device to complete 3 types of exercises (squeezing, pulling, and strength) in an aesthetically pleasing and more interactive way that the traditional way to do the exercises provided by a physical therapist.


High School

IMG_6529.jpg1st Place

Team CDP, Applied Technology High School, Paramus, NJ


This team’s invention, The Puer Seat, came in response to increasing child deaths in cars. Their car seat had 3 sensors included for an affordable price to prevent improper fastening, overheating, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Parents would be notified of any dangers their child may be in by light, sound, and phone notifications before any fatalities could happen!

IMG_65382nd Place

Team C equal Square Root E over M, John P. Stevens High School, Edison, NJ

The Vacation Station created by this team is an outdoors charging system powered completely by solar and wind energy. Rather than using a portable battery, the detachable solar panels and windmill umbrella would be an fail-safe system that would provide you with a more sustainable way to charge your phone on the beach or in the park!


3rd Place

Team I-AAN, George Bush High School, Dallas, Texas [via Skype]

The Soteria bracelet was a multi-faceted alert system that this team created to prevent death of children and adults alike. The team presented this digital bracelet inspired by popular models over Skype. A removable pin on the side of the bracelet would discretely alert emergency contacts that you are in danger while the temperature and heart rate sensors would automatically signal a threat to your health.

Great job young inventors. I heard each of you loud and clear, and boy was I impressed. You truly heard Edison’s call of “There’s a better way to do it – find it!” You made my day!!


Edison, Einstein on Orville Wright

Let’s rejoin our two intrepid friends Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison up in the cloud, and listen in to their conversation about the Wright Brothers. Then check out our contest at the end of the blog.

Albert Einstein (AE)
Good Morning Thomas. Say, you met that Orville Wright fellow didn’t you?

Thomas Edison (TE)
Sure did-back in 1913 as I remember, came out to my West Orange Labs, a couple of weeks before Christmas. Why do you ask?

December 18, 1913: Visit of Orville Wright to Edison’s West Orange Labs.  Front row l. to r. Mina Edison, daughter Madeleine, Orville Wright (light-colored suit), Thomas Edison, [unknown], John Sloane –husband of Madeleine.

December 18, 1913: Visit of Orville Wright to Edison’s West Orange Labs.
Front row l. to r. Mina Edison, daughter Madeleine, Orville Wright (light-colored suit), Thomas Edison, [unknown], John Sloane –husband of Madeleine.

Lot of fanfare about a new book about the Wright brothers, just came out, that McCullough writer fellow wrote the book-good reviews I hear.

Hey, isn’t that the fellow who wrote about you Albert?

Yes, it is! Well, I almost forgot about that.

Orville and his brother Wilber [who died young] did quite a nice job with making the airplane a practical device. Lots of controversy about whether they were first or not, but if they did not provide the proper controls for the wings, no one would be flying today. No small problem they solved in 1903, and then the interest overtook the whole world.

Orville being launched for an early flight in 1902. Brother Wilber and a friend are at each wingtip.

Orville being launched for an early flight in 1902. Brother Wilber and a friend are at each wingtip.

What reminds me of you Tom, is how they kept improving and refining their flying machine. Passion is what they had for their invention, like you did for yours.

If you don’t have passion, there is no need to be in the inventing business. I must say though I wondered how they made a connection between their other activities like an ongoing bicycle shop and powered flight; but then again inspiration can come from a variety of circumstances. Did I mention he was an Ohio boy like me? He came from Dayton, while I came from up north in Milan, near Lake Erie.

Sounds like those Midwest strong work values. Just like Henry Ford too!

That could very well be. Another thing I did not mention. When Orville was out visiting me he had quite a good time talking with my daughter Madeleine’s husband, John Sloane, who has an aeronautical business down in Newark. The airport there is becoming quite well known and used.

Thomas, consider how much change has come during our lives. Once the train was the way to travel– and then Henry brings the automobile, and you the electric vehicle; and along comes Orville and folks are no longer on the road, but in the air. Such change!

And 66 years later in 1969, there are footprints on the moon.

Let’s take a walk. I have been doing some of those Smoogle….no Google…….computer searches, and Mr. Orville Wright lives not far from us up here in the cloud. Maybe he and his brother would like to do a little inventing with us. What do you think?

Al…a splendid idea!

Who knows….maybe a plane flight is in our future?

Perhaps I should bring along my motion picture camera?

Einstein, Edison on Orville Wright

A Contest for our readers!

Win a gift of $100 for first place; $50 second; $25 third. Send us some words, say 150-250, as to which invention had the most impact on the world … the light bulb; the airplane; or theory of relativity. Contest closes on June 15, 2015 at 5:00 pm. Email info@thomasedison.org to enter.

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said, “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves …”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.


Happy Birthday Thomas Edison! (February 11th)

Happy Birthday Thomas Edison! (February 11th)

Born: Milan, Ohio

Occupation: Inventor, entrepreneur, project manager, technology leader, manufacturer, businessman

Accomplishments: 1,093 patents

Major industries impacted:

  • music industry (phonographs)
  • motion pictures (camera to projector)
  • power industry/electric light bulb
  • the West Orange invention factory [R&D labs]

Championed and built [100 years ago]:

  • electric vehicles
  • storage batteries
  • in-garage charging stations
  • revamped the concrete industry with new and larger kiln designs (Portland Cement)
  • major improvements to telephone in collaboration with Alexander Graham Bell

Most Recognized Edison Quote: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Impact on the World:

  • The technology, inventions and industries that he created still account for $1.5 trillion of U.S. economy [about 10% of U.S. GDP]; about 4 times that for world economy
  • Life Magazine [1996] proclaimed him the “Man of the Millennium”
  • TIME Magazine featured him on cover of special July 2010 history issue-proclaiming him so relevant to our world today
  • Voice of America claims Edison’s technology is responsible for one-fourth of all the world’s jobs
  • He is the human icon for invention and creativity
  • Inspiration to generations of inventors and entrepreneurs

His multi-dimensional, multi-disciplinary method of problem solving has become the taproot for the hands-on, problem solving paradigm known as STEM, now sweeping the nation’s schools

FANS – Acknowledged Edison during their career

  • Steve Jobs, Apple
  • Jeff Bezos, Amazon
  • Google Team, Innovators
  • Bon Jovi, Musician
  • Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO