Thomas Alva Edison was born on 11 February, 1847 in Milan, Ohio, and grew up in Port Huron, Michigan and died on 18 October, 1931, in his home, “Glenmont” in Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey. Thomas Edison is buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey. Thomas Edison’s last breath is reportedly contained in a test tube at the Henry Ford Museum. Henry Ford reportedly convinced Charles Edison to seal a test tube of air in the inventor’s room shortly after his death, as a memento. A plaster death mask was also made.
Thomas Edison was an American inventor and businessman who developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph and a long lasting light bulb. Dubbed “The Wizard of Menlo Park” by a newspaper reporter, he was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production to the process of invention, and therefore is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.
Thomas Edison is considered one of the most prolific inventors in history, holding 1,093 U.S. patents in his name, as well as many patents in the United Kingdom, France and Germany.
Thomas Edison was the 7th and last child of Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. (1804–1896) (born in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, Canada) and Nancy Matthews Edison née Elliott (1810–1871). Thomas Edison considered himself to be of Dutch ancestry.
Thomas Edison as a boy in school, the young Thomas Edison’s mind often wandered, and his teacher, the Reverend Engle, was overheard calling him “addled.” This ended Thomas Edison’s 3 months of official schooling. Thomas Edison recalled later, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.” Thomas Edison’s mother then home schooled him. Much of his education came from reading R.G. Parker’s School of Natural Philosophy and The Cooper Union.
Thomas Edison developed hearing problems at an early age. The cause of his deafness has been attributed to a bout of scarlet fever during childhood and recurring untreated middle ear infections. Around the middle of his career Thomas Edison attributed the hearing loss to being struck on the ears by a train conductor when his chemical laboratory in a boxcar caught fire and he was thrown off the train in Smiths Creek, Michigan, along with his apparatus and chemicals. In his later years he modified the story to say the injury occurred when the conductor, in helping him onto a moving train, lifted him by the ears.
Thomas Edison’s family was forced to move to Port Huron, Michigan, when the railroad bypassed Milan in 1854, but his life there was bittersweet. Thomas Edison sold candy and newspapers on trains running from Port Huron to Detroit, as well as vegetables that he sold to supplement his income. This began Thomas Edison’s long streak of entrepreneurial ventures as he discovered his talents as a businessman. These talents eventually led him to found General Electric, which is still a publicly traded company, and 13 other companies.
Thomas Edison became a telegraph operator after he saved 3 year old Jimmie MacKenzie from being struck by a runaway train. Jimmie’s father, station agent J.U. MacKenzie of Mount Clemens, Michigan, was so grateful that he trained Edison as a telegraph operator. Thomas Edison’s first telegraphy job away from Port Huron was at Stratford Junction, Ontario, on the Grand Trunk Railway. In 1866, at the age of 19, Thomas Edison moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where as an employee of Western Union he worked the Associated Press bureau news wire. Thomas Edison requested the night shift, which allowed him plenty of time to spend at his 2 favorite pastimes—reading and experimenting. Eventually, the latter pre-occupation cost him his job. One night in 1867, he was working with a battery when he spilled sulphuric acid onto the floor. It ran between the floorboards and onto his boss’ desk below. The next morning he was fired.
One of his mentors during those early years was a fellow telegrapher and inventor named Franklin Leonard Pope, who allowed the impoverished youth to live and work in the basement of his Elizabeth, New Jersey, home. Some of Thomas Edison’s earliest inventions were related to telegraphy, including a stock ticker. Thomas Edison’s first patent was for the electric vote recorder, (U. S. Patent 90,646), which was granted on June 1, 1869.
On 25 December, 1871, Thomas Edison married 16 year old Mary Stilwell, whom he had met 2 months earlier as she was an employee at one of his shops. They had 3 children: Marion Estelle Edison (1873–1965), nicknamed “Dot” Thomas Alva Edison Jr. (1876–1935), nicknamed “Dash” and William Leslie Edison (1878–1937) Mary Edison died on 9 August, 1884.
On 24 February, 1886, at the age of 39, Thomas Edison married 20 year old Mina Miller in Akron, Ohio. Mina Miller was the daughter of inventor Lewis Miller, co-founder of the Chautauqua Institution and a benefactor of Methodist charities. They also had 3 children: Madeleine Edison (1888–1979), who married John Eyre Sloane.
Mina outlived Thomas Edison, dying on 24 August, 1947 in Seminole Lodge, Edison’s winter home in Fort Myers, Florida . Thomas Edison had purchased his home in 1886 as a wedding gift for Mina.
Charles Edison (1890–1969), who took over the company upon his father’s death and who later was elected Governor of New Jersey
Theodore Miller Edison (1898–1992).
Photograph of Thomas Edison with his phonograph, taken by Mathew Brady in 1877 Thomas Edison began his career as an inventor in Newark, New Jersey, with the automatic repeater and his other improved telegraphic devices, but the invention which first gained him fame was the phonograph in 1877. This accomplishment was so unexpected by the public at large as to appear almost magical. Thomas Edison became known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” New Jersey, where he lived. Thomas Edison’s first phonograph recorded on tinfoil around a grooved cylinder and had poor sound quality. The tinfoil recordings could only be replayed a few times. In the 1880s, a redesigned model using wax-coated cardboard cylinders was produced by Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell, and Charles Tainter. This was one reason that Thomas Edison continued work on his own “Perfected Phonograph.”
Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory, removed to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. Thomas Edison’s first successful light bulb model, used in public demonstration at Menlo Park, December 1879
U.S. Patent #223898: Electric-Lamp. Issued 27 January, 1880. Thomas Edison’s major innovation was the first industrial research lab, which was built in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Built with the funds from the sale of Thomas Edison’s quadruplex telegraph, it was the first institution set up with the specific purpose of producing constant technological innovation and improvement. Thomas Edison was legally attributed with most of the inventions produced there, though many employees carried out research and development work under his direction. Thomas Edison’s staff was generally told to carry out his directions in conducting research, and he drove them hard to produce results. The large research group, which included engineers and other workers, based much of their research on work done by others before them.
William J. Hammer, a consulting electrical engineer, began his duties as a laboratory assistant to Thomas Edison in December 1879. Thomas Edison assisted in experiments on the telephone, phonograph, electric railway, iron ore separator, electric lighting, and other developing inventions. However, Hammer worked primarily on the incandescent electric lamp and was put in charge of tests and records on that device. In 1880, he was appointed chief engineer of the Edison Lamp Works. In his first year, the plant under General Manager Francis Robbins Upton turned out 50,000 lamps. According to Thomas Edison, Hammer was “a pioneer of incandescent electric lighting”.
Nearly all of Thomas Edison’s patents were utility patents, which were protected for a 17 year period and included inventions or processes that are electrical, mechanical, or chemical in nature. About a dozen were design patents, which protect an ornamental design for up to a 14 year period. Like most patents, the inventions he described were improvements over prior art. The phonograph patent, on the other hand, was unprecedented as the first device to record and reproduce sounds. Thomas Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, but instead invented the first commercially practical incandescent light. Several designs had already been developed by earlier inventors including the patent he purchased from Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans, Moses G. Farmer, Joseph Swan, James Bowman Lindsay, William E. Sawyer, Sir Humphry Davy, and Heinrich Göbel. Some of these early bulbs had such flaws as extremely short life, high expense to produce, and high current draw, making them difficult to apply on a large scale commercially. In 1878, Thomas Edison applied the term filament to the element of glowing wire carrying the current, although English inventor Joseph Swan had used the term prior to this. Thomas Edison took the features of these earlier designs and set his workers to the task of creating longer-lasting bulbs. By 1879, he had produced a new concept: a high resistance lamp in a very high vacuum, which would burn for hundreds of hours. While the earlier inventors had produced electric lighting in laboratory conditions, dating back to a demonstration of a glowing wire by Alessandro Volta in 1800, Thomas Edison concentrated on commercial application, and was able to sell the concept to homes and businesses by mass-producing relatively long-lasting light bulbs and creating a complete system for the generation and distribution of electricity.
The Menlo Park research lab was made possible by the sale of the quadruplex telegraph that Thomas Edison invented in 1874. It could send 4 simultaneous telegraph signals over the same wire. After his demonstration of the telegraph, Thomas Edison was not sure that his original plan on selling it for $4,000 to $5,000 was right, so he asked Western Union to make an bid. Thomas Edison was surprised to hear them offer $40,000, which he graciously accepted. The quadruplex telegraph was Thomas Edison’s first big financial success and allowed him to build Menlo Park.
In just over a decade Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory had expanded to occupy 2 city blocks. Thomas Edison said he wanted the lab to have “a stock of almost every conceivable material”. A newspaper article printed in 1887 reveals the seriousness of his claim, stating the lab contained “eight thousand kinds of chemicals, every kind of screw made, every size of needle, every kind of cord or wire, hair of humans, horses, hogs, cows, rabbits, goats, minx, camels …silk in every texture, cocoons, various kinds of hoofs, shark’s teeth, deer horns, tortoise shell …cork, resin, varnish and oil, ostrich feathers, a peacock’s tail, jet, amber, rubber, all ores …” and the list goes on.
Over his desk, Thomas Edison displayed a placard with Sir Joshua Reynolds’ famous quote: “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.” This slogan was reputedly posted at several other locations throughout the facility.
With Menlo Park, Edison had created the first industrial laboratory concerned with creating knowledge and then controlling its application.
In 1877–1878, Thomas Edison invented and developed the carbon microphone used in all telephones along with the Bell receiver until the 1980s. After protracted patent litigation, in 1892 a federal court ruled that Thomas Edison—and not Emile Berliner—was the inventor of the carbon microphone. The carbon microphone was also used in radio broadcasting and public address work through the 1920s.
History of the light bulb
After many experiments with platinum and other metal filaments, Thomas Edison returned to a carbon filament. The first successful test was on October 22, 1879, and lasted 40 hours. Thomas Edison continued to improve this design and by 4 November, 1879, filed for U.S. patent 223,898 (granted on January 27, 1880) for an electric lamp using “a carbon filament or strip coiled and connected to platina contact wires”. Although the patent described several ways of creating the carbon filament including “cotton and linen thread, wood splints, papers coiled in various ways”, it was not until several months after the patent was granted that Thomas Edison and his team discovered a carbonized bamboo filament could last over 1,200 hours.
Thomas Edison bought light bulb U.S. patent 181,613 of Henry Woodward that was issued 29 August, 1876 and obtained an exclusive license to Woodward’s Canadian patent. These patents covered a carbon filament in a rarefied gas bulb.
In 1878, Thomas Edison formed the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City with several financiers, including J. P. Morgan and the members of the Vanderbilt family. Thomas Edison made the first public demonstration of his incandescent light bulb on 31 December, 1879, in Menlo Park. It was during this time that he said: “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”
George Westinghouse’s company bought Philip Diehl’s competing induction lamp patent rights (1882) for $25,000, forcing the holders of the Edison patent to charge a more reasonable rate for the use of the Edison patent rights and lowering the price of the electric lamp.
On 8 October, 1883, the U.S. patent office ruled that Edison’s patent was based on the work of William Sawyer and was therefore invalid. Litigation continued for nearly 6 years, until 6 October, 1889, when a judge ruled that Thomas Edison’s electric light improvement claim for “a filament of carbon of high resistance” was valid. To avoid a possible court battle with Joseph Swan, whose British patent had been awarded a year before Thomas Edison’s, he and Swan formed a joint company called Thomas Edison to manufacture and market the invention in Britain.
Mahen Theatre in Brno in what is now the Czech Republic, was the first public building in the world to use Thomas Edison’s electric lamps, with the installation supervised by Thomas Edison’s assistant in the invention of the lamp, Francis Jehl.
Thomas Edison patented an electric distribution system in 1880, which was essential to capitalize on the invention of the electric lamp. On 17 December, 1880, Thomas Edison founded the Edison Electric Illuminating Company. The company established the first investor-owned electric utility in 1882 on Pearl Street Station, New York City. It was on 4 September, 1882, that Thomas Edison switched on his Pearl Street generating station’s electrical power distribution system, which provided 110 volts direct current (DC) to 59 customers in lower Manhattan.
Earlier in the year, in January 1882 he had switched on the first steam generating power station at Holborn Viaduct in London. The DC supply system provided electricity supplies to street lamps and several private dwellings within a short distance of the station. On 19 January, 1883, the first standardised incandescent electric lighting system employing overhead wires began service in Roselle, New Jersey.
Extravagant displays of electric lights quickly became a feature of public events, as this picture from the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition shows. Thomas Edison’s true success, like that of his friend Henry Ford, was in his ability to maximize profits through establishment of mass-production systems and intellectual property rights. This dampened the success of less profitable work by others who were focused on inventing longer-lasting high-efficiency technology. George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison became adversaries because of Thomas Edison’s promotion of direct current for electric power distribution instead of the more easily transmitted alternating current (AC) system invented by Nikola Tesla and promoted by Westinghouse. Unlike DC, AC could be stepped up to very high voltages with transformers, sent over thinner and cheaper wires, and stepped down again at the destination for distribution to users.
In 1887 there were 121 Edison power stations in the United States delivering DC electricity to customers. When the limitations of Direct Current (DC) were discussed by the public, Thomas Edison launched a propaganda campaign to convince people that Alternating Current (AC) was far too dangerous to use. The problem with DC was that the power plants could only economically deliver DC electricity to customers about one and a half miles from the generating station, so it was only suitable for central business districts. When George Westinghouse suggested using high-voltage AC instead, as it could carry electricity hundreds of miles with marginal loss of power, Thomas Edison waged a “War of Currents” to prevent AC from being adopted.
Despite Thomas Edison’s contempt for capital punishment, the war against AC led him to become involved in the development and promotion of the electric chair as a demonstration of AC’s greater lethal potential versus the “safer” DC. Thomas Edison went on to carry out a brief but intense campaign to ban the use of AC or to limit the allowable voltage for safety purposes. As part of this campaign, Thomas Edison’s employees publicly electrocuted animals to demonstrate the dangers of AC, even though protection from electrocution by AC or DC is essentially the same. On one of the more notable occasions, in 1903, Thomas Edison’s workers electrocuted Topsy the elephant at Luna Park, near Coney Island, after she had killed several men and her owners wanted her put to death. Thomas Edison’s company filmed the electrocution.
AC replaced DC in most instances of generation and power distribution, enormously extending the range and improving the efficiency of power distribution. Though widespread use of DC ultimately lost favor for distribution, it exists today primarily in long-distance high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission systems. Low voltage DC distribution continued to be used in high density downtown areas for many years but was replaced by AC low voltage network distribution in many central business districts. DC had the advantage that large battery banks could maintain continuous power through brief interruptions of the electric supply from generators and the transmission system. Utilities such as Commonwealth Edison in Chicago had rotary converters, also known as motor-generator sets , which could change DC to AC and AC to various frequencies in the early to mid-20th century. Utilities supplied rectifiers to convert the low voltage AC to DC for such DC loads as elevators, fans and pumps. There were still 1,600 DC customers in downtown New York City as of 2005, and service was only finally discontinued on 14 November, 2007. The New York City Subway system is still run by DC power to this day.
Thomas Edison is credited with designing and producing the first commercially available fluoroscope, the machine that takes radiographs (colloquially known as “X-rays”). Until Thomas Edison discovered that calcium tungstate fluoroscopy screens produced brighter images than the barium platinocyanide screens originally used by Wilhelm Röntgen, the technology was only capable of producing very faint images. The fundamental design of Thomas Edison’s fluoroscope is still in use today, despite the fact that Thomas Edison himself abandoned the project after nearly losing his own eyesight and seriously maiming his assistant, Clarence Dally. Clarence Dally had made himself an enthusiastic human guinea pig for the fluoroscopy project and in the process been exposed to a poisonous dose of radiation. Clarence Dally later died of injuries related to the exposure. In 1903, a shaken Thomas Edison said “Don’t talk to me about X-rays, I am afraid of them.”
Frank J. Sprague, a competent mathematician and former naval officer, was recruited by Edward H. Johnson and joined the Edison organization in 1883. One of Sprague’s significant contributions to the Edison Laboratory at Menlo Park was to expand Edison’s mathematical methods. Despite the common belief that Thomas Edison did not use mathematics, analysis of his notebooks reveal that he was an astute user of mathematical analysis, for example, determining the critical parameters of his electric lighting system including lamp resistance by a sophisticated analysis of Ohm’s Law, Joule’s Law and economics. A key to Thomas Edison’s success was an holistic rather than reductionist approach to invention, making extensive use of trial and error. Since Sprague joined Thomas Edison in 1883 and Thomas Edison’s output of patents peaked in 1880, it could be interpreted that the shift towards a reductionist analytical approach may not have been a positive move for Thomas Edison. Sprague’s important analytical contributions, including correcting Thomas Edison’s system of mains and feeders for central station distribution, form a counter argument to this. In 1884, Sprague decided his interests in the exploitation of electricity lay elsewhere, and he left Thomas Edison to found the Sprague Electric Railway & amp; amp; Motor Company. However, Sprague, who later developed many electrical innovations, always credited Thomas Edison for their work together.
Another of Thomas Edison’s assistants was Nikola Tesla, who claimed that Thomas Edison promised him $50,000 if he succeeded in making improvements to his DC generation plants. Nikola Tesla claimed that several months later, when he had finished the work and asked to be paid, Thomas Edison said, “When you become a full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke.” Nikola Tesla immediately resigned. With Nikola Tesla’s salary of $18 per week, the payment would have amounted to over 53 years pay and the amount was equal to the initial capital of the company. Nikola Tesla resigned when he was refused a raise to $25 per week. Although Nikola Tesla accepted an Edison Medal later in life and professed a high opinion of Thomas Edison as an inventor and engineer, this and other negative series of events concerning Thomas Edison remained with Nikola Tesla. The day after Thomas Edison died, the New York Times contained extensive coverage of Thomas Edison’s life, with the only negative opinion coming from Nikola Tesla who was quoted as saying, “He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene” and that, “His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labour. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.” When Thomas Edison was a very old man and close to death, he said, in looking back, that the biggest mistake he had made was that he never respected Nikola Tesla or his work.
There were 28 men recognized as Edison Pioneers.
The key to Thomas Edison’s fortunes was telegraphy. With knowledge gained from years of working as a telegraph operator, he learned the basics of electricity. This allowed him to make his early fortune with the stock ticker, the first electricity-based broadcast system. Thomas Edison patented the sound recording and reproducing phonograph in 1878. Thomas Edison was also granted a patent for the motion picture camera or “Kinetograph”. Thomas Edison did the electromechanical design, while his employee W.K.L. Dickson, a photographer, worked on the photographic and optical development. Much of the credit for the invention belongs to Dickson. In 1891, Thomas Edison built a Kinetoscope, or peep-hole viewer. This device was installed in penny arcades, where people could watch short, simple films. The kinetograph and kinetoscope were both first publicly exhibited 20 May, 1891.
On 9 August, 1892, Thomas Edison received a patent for a two-way telegraph. In April 1896, Thomas Armat’s Vitascope, manufactured by the Edison factory and marketed in Edison’s name, was used to project motion pictures in public screenings in New York City. Later he exhibited motion pictures with voice soundtrack on cylinder recordings, mechanically synchronized with the film.
Officially the kinetoscope entered in Europe when the rich American Businessman Irving T. Bush (1869–1948) bought from the Continental Commerce Company of Franck Z. Maguire and Joseph D. Bachus a dozen machines. Bush placed from 17 October, 1894 on the first kinetoscopes in London. At the same time the French company Kinétoscope Edison Michel et Alexis Werner bought these machines for the market in France. In the last 3 months of 1894 The Continental Commerce Company sold hundreds of kinetoscopes in Europe (i.e. the Netherlands and Italy). In Germany and in Austria-Hungary the kinetoscope was introduced by the Deutsche-österreichische-Edison-Kinetoscop Gesellschaft, founded by the Ludwig Stollwerck of the Schokoladen-Süsswarenfabrik Stollwerck & amp; Co of Cologne. The first kinetoscopes arrived in Belgium at the Fairs in early 1895. The Edison’s Kinétoscope Français, a Belgian company, was founded in Brussels on January 15, 1895 with the rights to sell the kinetoscopes in Monaco, France and the French colonies. The main investors in this company were Belgian industrialists. On 14 May, 1895 the Edison’s Kinétoscope Belge was founded in Brussels. The businessman Ladislas-Victor Lewitzki, living in London but active in Belgium and France, took the initiative in starting this business. Thomas Edison had contacts with Leon Gaumont and the American Mutoscope and Biograph Co. In 1898 he also became shareholder of the Biograph and Mutoscope Company for France.
In 1908, Thomas Edison started the Motion Picture Patents Company, which was a conglomerate of 9 major film studios (commonly known as the Edison Trust). Thomas Edison was the first honorary fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, which was founded in 1929.
Thomas Edison moved from Menlo Park after the death of Mary Stilwell and purchased a home known as “Glenmont” in 1886 as a wedding gift for Mina in Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey. In the 1880s, Thomas Edison bought property in Fort Myers, Florida, and built Seminole Lodge as a winter retreat. Thomas Edison shared these 2 residences until early in 1931 when his medical needs were better met in West Orange.
Henry Ford, the automobile magnate, later lived a few hundred feet away from Thomas Edison at his winter retreat in Fort Myers, Florida. Thomas Edison even contributed technology to the automobile. They were friends until Thomas Edison’s death.
Officially the kinetoscope entered in Europe when the rich American Businessman Irving T. Bush (1869–1948) bought from the Continental Commerce Company of Franck Z. Maguire and Joseph D. Bachus a dozen machines. Bush placed from October 17, 1894 on the first kinetoscopes in London. At the same time the French company Kinétoscope Edison Michel et Alexis Werner bought these machines for the market in France. In the last three months of 1894 The Continental Commerce Company sold hundreds of kinetoscopes in Europe (i.e. the Netherlands and Italy). In Germany and in Austria-Hungary the kinetoscope was introduced by the Deutsche-österreichische-Edison-Kinetoscop Gesellschaft, founded by the Ludwig Stollwerck of the Schokoladen-Süsswarenfabrik Stollwerck & Co of Cologne. The first kinetoscopes arrived in Belgium at the Fairs in early 1895. The Edison’s Kinétoscope Français, a Belgian company, was founded in Brussels on January 15, 1895 with the rights to sell the kinetoscopes in Monaco, France and the French colonies. The main investors in this company were Belgian industrialists. On May 14, 1895 the Edison’s Kinétoscope Belge was founded in Brussels. The businessman Ladislas-Victor Lewitzki, living in London but active in Belgium and France, took the initiative in starting this business. Thomas Edison had contacts with Leon Gaumont and the American Mutoscope and Biograph Co. In 1898 he also became shareholder of the Biograph and Mutoscope Company for France.
In 1901, he visited the Sudbury area as a mining prospector, and is credited with the original discovery of the Falconbridge ore body. Thomas Edison attempts to actually mine the ore body were not successful, however, and he abandoned his mining claim in 1903. A street in Falconbridge, as well as the Edison Building, which served as the head office of Falconbridge Mines, are named for him.
In 1902, agents of Thomas Edison bribed a theater owner in London for a copy of A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès. Thomas Edison then made hundreds of copies and showed them in New York City. Méliès received no compensation. He was counting on taking the film to US and recapture the huge cost of it by showing it throughout the US when he realized it has already been showing in the US by Edison. This bankrupted Méliès. Other exhibitors similarly routinely copied and exhibited each others films. To better protect the copyrights on his films, Edison deposited prints of them on long strips of photographic paper with the U.S. copyright office. Many of these paper prints survived longer and in better condition than the actual films of that era.
Thomas Edison’s favourite movie was The Birth of a Nation. Thomas Edison thought that talkies had “spoiled everything” for him. “There isn’t any good acting on the screen. They concentrate on the voice now and have forgotten how to act. I can sense it more than you because I am deaf.”
Thomas Edison became the owner of his Milan, Ohio, birthplace in 1906. On his last visit, in 1923, he was shocked to find his old home still lit by lamps and candles.
In 1908, Thomas Edison started the Motion Picture Patents Company, which was a conglomerate of 9 major film studios (commonly known as the Edison Trust). Thomas Edison was the first honorary fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, which was founded in 1929.
In 1928, Thomas Edison joined the Fort Myers Civitan Club. Thomas Edison believed strongly in the organization, writing that “The Civitan Club is doing things–big things–for the community, state, and nation, and I certainly consider it an honor to be numbered in its ranks.” Thomas Edison was an active member in the club until his death, sometimes bringing Henry Ford to the club’s meetings.
Thomas Edison was said to have been influenced by a fad diet that was popular in the day to that in his last few years “the only liquid he consumed was a pint of milk every 3 hours”. Thomas Edison is reported to have believed this diet would restore his health. However, this tale is doubtful. In 1930, the year before Thomas Edison died, Mina said in an interview about him that “Correct eating is one of his greatest hobbies.” Mina also said that during one of his periodic “great scientific adventures”, Thomas Edison would be up at 7:00, have breakfast at 8:00, and be rarely home for lunch or dinner, implying that he continued to have all 3.
Thomas Edison was active in business right up to the end. Just months before his death in 1931, the Lackawanna Railroad implemented electric trains in suburban service from Hoboken to Gladstone, Montclair and Dover in New Jersey. Transmission was by means of an overhead catenary system, with the entire project under Thomas Edison’s guidance. To the surprise of many, he was at the throttle of the very first MU (Multiple-Unit) train to depart Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken, driving the train all the way to Dover. As another tribute to his lasting legacy, the same fleet of cars Thomas Edison deployed on the Lackawanna in 1931 served commuters until their retirement in 1984, when some of them were purchased by the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum in Lenox, MA. A special plaque commemorating the joint achievement of both the railway and Thomas Edison, can be seen today in the waiting room of Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken, presently operated by New Jersey Transit.
Historian Paul Israel has characterized Thomas Edison as a “freethinker”. Thomas Edison was heavily influenced by Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason. Thomas Edison defended Paine’s “scientific deism,” saying, “He has been called an atheist, but atheist he was not. Paine believed in a supreme intelligence, as representing the idea which other men often express by the name of deity.” In an 2 October, 1910 interview in the New York Times Magazine, Thomas Edison stated:
Nature is what we know. We do not know the gods of religions. And nature is not kind, or merciful, or loving. If God made me—the fabled God of the three qualities of which I spoke: mercy, kindness, love—He also made the fish I catch and eat. And where do His mercy, kindness, and love for that fish come in? No; nature made us—nature did it all—not the gods of the religions.
Thomas Edison was accused of atheism for those remarks, and although he did not allow himself to be drawn into the controversy publicly, he defended himself in a private letter: “You have misunderstood the whole article, because you jumped to the conclusion that it denies the existence of God. There is no such denial, what you call God I call Nature, the Supreme intelligence that rules matter. All the article states is that it is doubtful in my opinion if our intelligence or soul or whatever one may call it lives hereafter as an entity or disperses back again from whence it came, scattered amongst the cells of which we are made.”
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