Tag Archives: innovation

Edison’s Favorite Invention

Every time you pop on your tunes and listen to your favorite artists, you are channeling Tom Edison. The phonograph, precursor to your iPod was his favorite invention. It just seemed to work so well the first time he tried it, and of course there is a quote about the phonograph:

“…I’ve made some machines; but this is my baby, and I expect it to grow up to be a big feller and support me in my old age.”

Now we store, read, and playback our songs digitally on our computers, iPods, and other electronic devices. It all has come a long way since Edison first showed us how back in 1877.

[A young Edison demonstrates his phonograph]

[A young Edison demonstrates his phonograph]

Think of the relevance of Edison today in the millions of people employed in this global business. In the U.S. alone, 2011 revenue from music sales is expected to exceed $17 billion; including revenues form physical performances, on-line and mobile downloads, and digital sales. Worldwide, that number is about $68 billion. Radio revenue [music sales, as inferred through advertising] is likely to add another $18 billion to the U.S. total.

Like his motion picture industry, Edison not only pioneered the medium, he created both the movie studio and the recording studio at his legendary West Orange Labs. He invented the phonograph equipment, found the artists, recorded their music and marketed their work…a vertically integrated model still in use today.

[An early Edison phonograph and typical recorded cylinders]

[An early Edison phonograph and typical recorded cylinders]

Today on the third floor of the newly renovated Edison Labs in West Orange, visitors can see the old recording studio, gaze at photos of the great artists who sang there and see the primitive, but effective hardware that started the world on its constantly evolving musical journey. Every generation has a unique sound to their music and probably always will.

[Edison listens to recording artist Helen Davis accompanied by pianist Victor Young in the laboratory music room in 1912.]

[Edison listens to recording artist Helen Davis accompanied by pianist Victor Young in the laboratory music room in 1912.]

In a way, we can see Old Tom as a communication genius, giving us a variety of ways to express ourselves…first with great improvements to the telegraph, then an improved telephone, recorded sound and the movie industry. These innovations all involved something else…electricity….and of course, Edison invented the modern electric utility industry. Not bad for a guy from Milan, Ohio who never finished grammar school.

Oh yes, almost forgot…Tom’s favorite song was “I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen”.

Editor’s Deep Dive:


Thomas Edison on Time Magazine“I believe that the science of chemistry alone almost proves the existence of an intelligent creator.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.


Wind Power, Global Wind Day

Global Wind Day is a worldwide event that occurs annually on June 15th. It is a day for promoting wind, its power and the possibilities it holds to change our world. In honor of this annual celebration and the Edison Innovation Foundation’s strong commitment to alternative energy technologies, we offer this article on how a large amount of offshore wind generation may be collected to serve the Mid-Atlantic States, ushering in a new way to link large scale wind machines.


Happy Global Wind Day!

Clusters of wind machines are called wind farms and they can be located on land and offshore. They harvest the wind’s energy, much like traditional farms harvest sunshine to grow crops. Offshore wind energy installations are becoming increasing popular both in Europe and the U.S., with Europe having initially led the way. Experts believe the potential for offshore wind energy generation in the Mid-Atlantic States could be more than 60,000 megawatts, and provide for thousands of jobs. Of course, getting that power efficiently and economically linked to shore-based electric power facilities is a chief concern. Now, there is a very unique way to link offshore wind machine farms to onshore load centers.

In the near future, a new DC power transmission line will be snaking its way underwater from Virginia along the coasts of  Maryland and Delaware and on into New Jersey. This 350-mile long high voltage transmission line, an electrical backbone, will be capable of delivering 6,000 megawatts of clean power to key Mid-Atlantic States-the first step in what could be a much larger project. The clean power delivered will be generated from large clusters of offshore wind turbines, far enough offshore and invisible to the eye. Putting this into perspective, 6,000 megawatts is enough to power 1.9 million homes.

This backbone project will help the four states involved achieve their goals of integrating renewable energy into their state energy master plans. This backbone makes it possible to tie the wind energy clusters together as an entire unit rather than trying to tie each cluster to a specific site at the nearest electrical connection on shore. Doing it this way also provides a convenient electrical path to help relieve utility transmission line network congestion [analogous to highway congestion at rush hours] now existing in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Happy Global Wind Day!

Key investors in this exciting project are Google, Atlantic Wind Connection, Marubeni Power International and Good Energies. The wind farms, which are separate from the backbone project, would be located 10 to 15 miles offshore, experiencing fairly constant and strong wind conditions. Construction costs of the electrical backbone itself are estimated to be $5 billion. The costs of the wind machine clusters or farms that tie into this electrical super highway would be borne by the companies that choose to build them. Should the project be scaled-up to generate 54,000 megawatts by 2030, more than 43,000 permanent operations and maintenance jobs would be created; not to mention the many, many construction and support jobs along the way as wind machines are installed. Currently, ten companies are already competing to install wind turbines to be placed along this underwater electrical backbone route.

Atlantic Wind Connection is filing and managing the necessary paperwork and applications with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, outlining the benefits of the massive project. An optimal path for the high voltage DC power line will be mapped. Approvals for construction will need “the nod” from a variety of federal, state, regional and local regulators. The regional national grid operator, PJM will also review the project plans.

Editor’s Deep Dive

Thomas Edison on Time Magazine

Thomas Edison was a big fan of solar energy …

“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.



Edison Invents the Movie Industry

Characteristic of Edison’s major innovations, like the phonograph, the light bulb / electric utility industry, and R&D labs….the great inventor also created the individual components and the industry itself. It was no different with his motion picture innovations. His movies changed the world and how we see ourselves.

Edison’s initial work in motion pictures (1888-89) actually resembled his phonograph, with pictures arranged on a cylinder. These first motion pictures were rather crude, and hard to focus. Working with trusted associate and mucker K. L. Dickson, and using George Eastman’s improved 35 mm celluloid film, which was cut into continuous strips and perforated along the edges, the film was moved by sprockets in a stop-and-go motion behind the shutter.

Edison Invents the Motion Picture

In Edison’s movie studio, technically nicknamed “The Black Maria” (1893), Edison and his staff filmed short movies for later viewing in store-front movie parlors (1894). It’s been said that Edison’s motion pictures did for the eyes what his phonograph did for the ears. In all, about seventy-five, 20 second long, motion pictures were made in Edison’s studio. The first films shot at the Black Maria included magic shows, plays, vaudeville shows involving dancers and strongmen, cowboys, boxing matches, cockfights, and scantily clad women. When Edison combined his movie camera with Thomas Armat’s projector (1896), film-making took a great leap forward, and soon moved into larger theaters as a major new form of popular entertainment. When asked to discuss his movie-making activities in his cramped Black Maria, Edison quipped…..”It was a ghastly affair, but we managed to make pictures there.”

Edison Invents the Motion Picture


Edison Invents the Motion Picture

After 1895, Edison motion pictures tended to center on non-fictional subjects, shot on location. Famous show people of the day including Buffalo Bill, gunslinger Annie Oakley, and strongman Eugene Sandow were filmed by Edison’s team. Smaller and more portable cameras were making it possible to film on site, and capture “actuality” themes like parades, special events, military exercises. It was at this time that the landmark western, “The Great Train Robbery” was filmed in a number of locations in northern, NJ. This helped boost NJ as a film making area and inspired the film careers of Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Pearl White, and Harold Lloyd who all performed and lived in Fort Lee. The public was hungry for sporting events and boxing matches and this soon propelled the industry in new and innovative ways. After World War I the movie industry moved west to Hollywood.

In 1927, the year of the establishment of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the first honorary Oscar went to Thomas Edison, signed by over 40 Hollywood greats of the time, including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Sarah Bernhardt. Famed actors Mickey Rooney [Young Tom Edison, March-1940] and Spencer Tracy [Edison, the Man, May-1940] both portrayed Edison on the big screen. Spencer Tracy had planned to visit Mrs. Edison at Edison’s Glenmont home in Llewellyn Park, West Orange, NJ upon the opening of his Edison film at a theater in nearby Orange, NJ; but a terrible rainstorm and inclement weather prevented the meeting.

Today, the film and TV movie industry employs about 2.4 million people, and contributes about $180 billion annually to the national economy. You can see movies in theaters, on the Internet, your TV, on iPads, computers, laptops, smart phones and many other electronic devices, just about everywhere bringing the world together. Thank you Mr. Edison!

Thomas Edison on Time Magazine

Editor’s Deep Dive into Edison’s First Movies:

“I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try and invent it.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.


Thomas Edison’s e-mail to Steve Jobs- Sent from the “Cloud”

Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison

Early one morning, when Steve Jobs arrived at his desk at Apple *, he noticed an e-mail on his laptop screen and had the uncomfortable feeling that it would not be his typical day. It was from Thomas Edison and it read …

Dear Mr. Jobs:

Congratulations on your Mac, iPad and iPhone devices. My buddies and I, up here in the “Cloud”, really love their simplicity of operation. For quite some time I have been watching your company, impressed with the speed of your product development.

My early work in telegraphy and later recorded sound and motion pictures was pretty primitive compared to Apple products. I still have lunch with Ben Franklin and Alexander Bell on occasion and we are shocked at how fast wireless phones have taken over.

How you pack recorded sound, motion pictures and all sorts of other visual and communication things [I think you call them Apps] into your portable devices! That is what invention is all about, pulling a multi-disciplined team together, being the first to do something everyone says is impossible and then selling it profitably.

I hear technology companies have difficulty finding good talent. I had that problem too and even composed a special test for new potential hires to take [take the test yourself here]. Maybe Apple could partner with my friends at the Edison Foundations [www.ThomasEdison.org]. They have been working with teachers to bring the excitement of invention, problem solving, entrepreneurship and green technologies into the classroom.

I miss my “muckers” R&D team and all the great inventive times we had. I loved failing the most, because we learned so much and that just intensified the search for answers. I adopted this motto for the “muckers” to live by…… “Fail your way to success.” Judging from what I observe, you already are well aware of how invention, teamwork, leadership and some failures along the way, work to Apple’s benefit. [Our Apple stock is doing fine, helping to grow our 401k’s up here very nicely—thank you!]

Stop by my recently renovated lab in West Orange, NJ and have a look around. I would like to see an Edison-Apple Innovation Center, right next to my West Orange digs.  Buffet, Gates and even Zuckerberg will be envious.

Let’s have a face-to-face real time call when you are free. I just received an iPhone 4-G and am itching to use the Apple Face Time App.


* Apple, Mac, iPad, and iPhone are Trademarks of Apple, Inc.