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!


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