Thomas Edison: Wikis


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Thomas Alva Edison

"Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration."
– Thomas Alva Edison, Harper's Monthly (September 1932)
Born February 11, 1847(1847-02-11)
Milan, Ohio
Died October 18, 1931 (aged 84)
West Orange, New Jersey
Occupation inventor, scientist, businessman
Religion Deist
Spouse(s) Mary Stilwell (m. 1871–1884) «start: (1871)–end+1: (1885)»"Marriage: Mary Stilwell to Thomas Edison" Location: (linkback:
Mina Edison (m. 1886–1931) «start: (1886)–end+1: (1932)»"Marriage: Mina Edison to Thomas Edison" Location: (linkback:
Children Marion Estelle Edison (1873–1965)
Thomas Alva Edison Jr. (1876–1935)
William Leslie Edison (1878–1937)
Madeleine Edison (1888–1979)
Charles Edison (1890–1969)
Theodore Miller Edison (1898–1992)
Parents Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. (1804–1896)
Nancy Matthews Elliott (1810–1871)
Relatives Lewis Miller (father-in-law)
Birthplace of Thomas Edison
Historical marker of Edison's birthplace in Milan, Ohio

Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) was an American inventor, scientist and businessman who developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. Dubbed "The Wizard of Menlo Park" (now Edison, New Jersey) by a newspaper reporter, he was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large teamwork to the process of invention, and therefore is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.

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. He is credited with numerous inventions that contributed to mass communication and, in particular, telecommunications. His advanced work in these fields was an outgrowth of his early career as a telegraph operator. Edison originated the concept and implementation of electric-power generation and distribution to homes, businesses, and factories – a crucial development in the modern industrialized world. His first power station was on Manhattan Island, New York.


Early life

Thomas Edison as a boy

Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, and grew up in Port Huron, Michigan. He was the seventh and last child of Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. (1804–1896, born in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, Canada) and Nancy Matthews Elliott (1810–1871). He considered himself to be of Dutch ancestry.[1] In school, the young Edison's mind often wandered, and his teacher, the Reverend Engle, was overheard calling him "addled". This ended Edison's three months of official schooling. 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." His mother homeschooled him.[2] Much of his education came from reading R.G. Parker's School of Natural Philosophy and The Cooper Union. 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 Edison attributed the hearing impairment 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.[3][4] Edison's family was forced to move to Port Huron, Michigan, when the railroad bypassed Milan in 1854,[5] but his life there was bittersweet. He sold candy and newspapers on trains running from Port Huron to Detroit, and he sold vegetables to supplement his income. This began Edison's long streak of entrepreneurial ventures as he discovered his talents as a businessman. These talents eventually led him to found 14 companies, including General Electric, which is still in existence and is the largest publicly traded company in the world.[6][7]


Edison became a telegraph operator after he saved three-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. Edison's first telegraphy job away from Port Huron was at Stratford Junction, Ontario, on the Grand Trunk Railway.[8] 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. Edison requested the night shift, which allowed him plenty of time to spend at his two favorite pastimes—reading and experimenting. Eventually, the latter pre-occupation cost him his job. One night in 1867, he was working with a lead-acid battery when he spilled sulfuric acid onto the floor. It ran between the floorboards and onto his boss's desk below. The next morning Edison was fired.[9]

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 Edison's earliest inventions were related to telegraphy, including a stock ticker. His first patent was for the electric vote recorder, (U. S. Patent 90,646),[10] which was granted on June 1, 1869.[11]

Marriages and children

Mina Edison in 1906

On December 25, 1871, Edison married 16-year-old Mary Stilwell, whom he had met two months earlier as she was an employee at one of his shops. They had three children:

  • Marion Estelle Edison (1873–1965), nicknamed "Dot"[12]
  • Thomas Alva Edison, Jr. (1876–1935), nicknamed "Dash"[13]
  • William Leslie Edison (1878–1937) Inventor, graduate of the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale, 1900.[14]

Mary Edison died on August 9, 1884, possibly from a brain tumor.[15]

On February 24, 1886, at the age of thirty nine, Edison married 20-year-old Mina Miller in Akron, Ohio.[16] She was the daughter of inventor Lewis Miller, co-founder of the Chautauqua Institution and a benefactor of Methodist charities. They also had three children:

Mina outlived Thomas Edison, dying on August 24, 1947.[20][21]

Beginning his career

Photograph of Edison with his phonograph, taken by Mathew Brady in 1877
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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. Edison became known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park," New Jersey, where he lived. His first phonograph recorded on tinfoil around a grooved cylinder and had poor sound quality. The tinfoil recordings could be replayed only 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."

Menlo Park (1876–1881)

Edison's major innovation was the first industrial research lab, which was built in Menlo Park, New Jersey. It was built with the funds from the sale of Edison's quadruplex telegraph. After his demonstration of the telegraph, Edison was not sure that his original plan to sell it for $4,000 to $5,000 was right, so he asked Western Union to make a bid. He was surprised to hear them offer $10,000,[citation needed] which he gratefully accepted. The quadruplex telegraph was Edison's first big financial success, and Menlo Park became the first institution set up with the specific purpose of producing constant technological innovation and improvement. Edison was legally attributed with most of the inventions produced there, though many employees carried out research and development work under his direction. His staff was generally told to carry out his directions in conducting research, and he drove them hard to produce results. The large research group included engineers and other workers.

Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory, removed to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. (Note the organ against the back wall)

William J. Hammer, a consulting electrical engineer, began his duties as a laboratory assistant to Edison in December 1879. He 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 Edison, Hammer was "a pioneer of incandescent electric lighting".

Thomas Edison's first successful light bulb model, used in public demonstration at Menlo Park, December 1879

Nearly all of 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. As in most patents, the inventions he described were improvements over prior art. The phonograph patent, in contrast, was unprecedented as describing the first device to record and reproduce sounds.[22] 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 allegedly purchased from Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans. Others who developed early and not commercially practical incandescent electric lamps included Humphry Davy, James Bowman Lindsay, Moses G. Farmer,[23] William E. Sawyer, Joseph Swan and Heinrich Göbel. Some of these early bulbs had such flaws as an extremely short life, high expense to produce, and high electric current drawn, making them difficult to apply on a large scale commercially. In 1878, Edison applied the term filament to the element of glowing wire carrying the current, although the English inventor Joseph Swan had used the term prior to this. Swan developed an incandescent light with a long lasting filament at about the same time as Edison, but it lacked the high resistance needed for central station DC service. 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, 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.

In just over a decade Edison's Menlo Park laboratory had expanded to occupy two city blocks. 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.[24]

Over his desk, 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."[25] 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.


Carbon telephone transmitter

In 1877–1878, 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 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.

Electric light

Edison in 1878
Edison speech, 1920s.ogg
Video clip of Thomas Edison talking about the invention of the light bulb, late 1920s

After many experiments with platinum and other metal filaments, Edison returned to a carbon filament. The first successful test was on October 22, 1879;[26] it lasted 40 hours. Edison continued to improve this design and by November 4, 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".[27] Although the patent described several ways of creating the carbon filament including "cotton and linen thread, wood splints, papers coiled in various ways",[27] it was not until several months after the patent was granted that Edison and his team discovered a carbonized bamboo filament that could last over 1,200 hours. The idea of using this particular raw material originated from Edison's recalling his examination of a few threads from a bamboo fishing pole while relaxing on the shore of Battle Lake in the present-day state of Wyoming, where he and other members of a scientific team had traveled so that they could clearly observe a total eclipse of the sun on July 29, 1878, from the Continental Divide.[28]

U.S. Patent#223898: Electric-Lamp. Issued January 27, 1880.

Edison allegedly bought light bulb U.S. patent 181,613 of Henry Woodward that was issued August 29, 1876, and obtained an exclusive license to Woodward's Canadian patent. These patents covered a carbon rod in a nitrogen filled glass cylinder, and differed substantially from the first commercially practical bulb invented by Edison.[citation needed]

In 1878, 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. Edison made the first public demonstration of his incandescent light bulb on December 31, 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."[29]

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.[30]

On October 8, 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 six years, until October 6, 1889, when a judge ruled that 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 Edison's, he and Swan formed a joint company called Ediswan 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 Edison's electric lamps, with the installation supervised by Edison's assistant in the invention of the lamp, Francis Jehl.[31]

Electric power distribution

Edison patented a system for electricity distribution in 1880, which was essential to capitalize on the invention of the electric lamp. On December 17, 1880, Edison founded the Edison Illuminating Company. The company established the first investor-owned electric utility in 1882 on Pearl Street Station, New York City. It was on September 4, 1882, that 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. [32]

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 January 19, 1883, the first standardized incandescent electric lighting system employing overhead wires began service in Roselle, New Jersey.

War of currents

Extravagant displays of electric lights quickly became a feature of public events, as in this picture from the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition.

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. George Westinghouse and Edison became adversaries because of 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, 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 economically deliver DC electricity only to customers within about one and a half miles (about 2.4 km) from the generating station, so that it was suitable only 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, Edison waged a "War of Currents" to prevent AC from being adopted.

Despite Edison's contempt for capital punishment, the war against AC led him to become involved in the development and promotion of the electric chair (using AC current) as an attempt to portray AC to have greater lethal potential than DC. 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, Edison's employees publicly electrocuted animals to demonstrate the dangers of AC;[33][34] AC electric currents are slightly more dangerous in that frequencies near 60 Hz have a markedly greater potential for inducing fatal "Cardiac Fibrillation" than do DC currents.[35] On one of the more notable occasions, in 1903, 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.[36] His 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 eventually replaced by AC low-voltage network distribution in many of them. 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 or 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 finally discontinued only on November 14, 2007.[37] Most subway systems still are powered by direct current.


Edison is credited with designing and producing the first commercially available fluoroscope, a machine that uses X-rays to take radiographs. Until Edison discovered that calcium tungstate fluoroscopy screens produced brighter images than the barium platinocyanide screens originally used by Wilhelm Röntgen, the technology was capable of producing only very faint images. The fundamental design of Edison's fluoroscope is still in use today, despite the fact that Edison himself abandoned the project after nearly losing his own eyesight and seriously injuring his assistant, Clarence Dally. 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. He later died of injuries related to the exposure. In 1903, a shaken Edison said "Don't talk to me about X-rays, I am afraid of them."[38]

Work relations

Photograph of Thomas Edison by Victor Daireaux, Paris, circa 1880s

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 Edison did not use mathematics, analysis of his notebooks reveal that he was an astute user of mathematical analysis conducted by his assistants such as Francis Upton, 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.[39]

Another of Edison's assistants was Nikola Tesla, to whom Edison promised $50,000 if he succeeded in making improvements to his DC generation plants. Several months later, when Tesla had finished the work and asked to be paid, Edison said, "When you become a full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke."[40] Tesla immediately resigned. With 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. Tesla resigned when he was refused a raise to $25 per week.[41] Although Tesla accepted an Edison Medal later in life, this and other negative series of events concerning Edison remained with Tesla. The day after Edison died, the New York Times contained extensive coverage of Edison's life, with the only negative opinion coming from 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% 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." It seems very likely that Tesla's description was accurate, considering one of Edison's famous quotes regarding his attempts to make the light globe: "If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward".[42] When 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 Tesla or his work.[43]

There were 28 men recognized as Edison Pioneers.

Media inventions

The key to 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. Edison patented the sound recording and reproducing phonograph in 1878. Edison was also granted a patent for the motion picture camera or "Kinetograph". He 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.[26] 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 May 20, 1891.[44]

On August 9, 1892, 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.

Leonard Cushing Kinetograph 1894.ogv
The June 1894 Leonard–Cushing bout. Each of the six one-minute rounds recorded by the Kinetoscope was made available to exhibitors for $22.50.[45] Customers who watched the final round saw Leonard score a knockdown.

Officially the kinetoscope entered 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, 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[46] 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. He had contacts with Leon Gaumont and the American Mutoscope and Biograph Co. In 1898 he also became a shareholder of the Biograph and Mutoscope Company for France.[47]

In 1901, he visited the Sudbury area in Ontario, Canada, as a mining prospector, and is credited with the original discovery of the Falconbridge ore body. His attempts to actually mine the ore body were not successful, however, and he abandoned his mining claim in 1903.[48] 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. 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 the US and recapture its huge cost by showing it throughout the country when he realized it had already been shown there by Edison. This effectively bankrupted Méliès.[49] Other exhibitors similarly routinely copied and exhibited each others films.[50] 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.[51]

Edison's favourite movie was The Birth of a Nation. He 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."[52]

In 1908, Edison started the Motion Picture Patents Company, which was a conglomerate of nine 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.

West Orange and Fort Myers (1886–1931)

Thomas A. Edison Industries Exhibit, Primary Battery section, 1915
Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone. Ft. Myers, Florida, February 11, 1929.

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 1885, Thomas Edison bought property in Fort Myers, Florida, and built what was later called Seminole Lodge as a winter retreat. Edison and his wife Mina spent many winters in Fort Myers where they recreated and Edison tried to find a domestic source of natural rubber.

Henry Ford, the automobile magnate, later lived a few hundred feet away from Edison at his winter retreat in Fort Myers, Florida. Edison even contributed technology to the automobile. They were friends until Edison's death.

In 1928, Edison joined the Fort Myers Civitan Club. He 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."[53] He was an active member in the club until his death, sometimes bringing Henry Ford to the club's meetings.

The final years

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 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 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, Massachusetts. A special plaque commemorating the joint achievement of both the railway and Edison can be seen today in the waiting room of Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken, presently operated by New Jersey Transit.[54]

Edison was said to have been influenced by a popular fad diet in his last few years; "the only liquid he consumed was a pint of milk every three hours".[26] He is reported to have believed this diet would restore his health. However, this tale is doubtful. In 1930, the year before Edison died, Mina said in an interview about him that "Correct eating is one of his greatest hobbies." She also said that during one of his periodic "great scientific adventures", 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 three.[52]

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.

Thomas Edison died of complications of diabetes on October 18, 1931, in his home, "Glenmont" in Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey, which he had purchased in 1886 as a wedding gift for Mina. He is buried behind the home.[55][56]

Mina died in 1947. Edison's last breath is reportedly contained in a test tube at the Henry Ford Museum. 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.[57]

Views on politics, religion and metaphysics

Historian Paul Israel has characterized Edison as a "freethinker".[26] Edison was heavily influenced by Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason.[26] 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."[26] In an October 2, 1910, interview in the New York Times Magazine, 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.[58]

Edison was called an atheist for those remarks, and although he did not allow himself to be drawn into the controversy publicly, he clarified 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."[26]

Nonviolence was key to Edison's moral views, and when asked to serve as a naval consultant for World War I, he specified he would work only on defensive weapons and later noted, "I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill." Edison's philosophy of nonviolence extended to animals as well, about which he stated: "Nonviolence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages."[59] However, he is also notorious for having electrocuted a number of dogs in 1888, both by direct and alternating current, in an attempt to argue that the former (which he had a vested business interest in promoting) was safer than the latter (favored by his rival George Westinghouse)[60]. Edison's success in promoting DC current as less lethal also led to AC current being used in the electric chair adopted by New York in 1889 as a supposedly humane execution method; because Westinghouse was angered by the decision, he funded Eighth Amendment-based appeals for inmates set to die in the electric chair, ultimately resulting in Edison providing the generators which powered early electrocutions and testifying successfully on behalf of the state that electrocution was a painless method of execution.[61]


Places named for Edison

Several places have been named after Edison, most notably the town of Edison, New Jersey. Thomas Edison State College, a nationally known college for adult learners, is in Trenton, New Jersey. Two community colleges are named for him: Edison State College in Fort Myers, Florida, and Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio.[62] There are numerous high schools named after Edison; see Edison High School.

The City Hotel, in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, was the first building to be lit with Edison's three-wire system. The hotel was re-named The Hotel Edison, and retains that name today.

Three bridges around the United States have been named in his honor (see Edison Bridge).

Museums and memorials

In West Orange, New Jersey, the 13.5 acre (5.5 ha) Glenmont estate is maintained and operated by the National Park Service as the Edison National Historic Site.[citation needed] The Thomas Alva Edison Memorial Tower and Museum is in the town of Edison, New Jersey.[citation needed] In Beaumont, Texas, there is an Edison Museum, though Edison never visited there.[citation needed] The Port Huron Museum, in Port Huron, Michigan, restored the original depot that Thomas Edison worked out of as a young newsbutcher. The depot has been named the Thomas Edison Depot Museum.[citation needed] The town has many Edison historical landmarks, including the graves of Edison's parents, and a monument along the St. Clair River. Edison's influence can be seen throughout this city of 32,000. In Detroit, the Edison Memorial Fountain in Grand Circus Park was created to honor his achievements. The limestone fountain was dedicated October 21, 1929.[citation needed]

Companies bearing Edison's name

Awards named in honor of Edison

The Edison Medal was created on February 11, 1904, by a group of Edison's friends and associates. Four years later the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE), later IEEE, entered into an agreement with the group to present the medal as its highest award. The first medal was presented in 1909 to Elihu Thomson and, in a twist of fate, was awarded to Nikola Tesla in 1917. It is the oldest award in the area of electrical and electronics engineering, and is presented annually "for a career of meritorious achievement in electrical science, electrical engineering or the electrical arts."

In the Netherlands, the major music awards are named the Edison Award after him.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers concedes the Thomas A. Edison Patent Award to individual patents since 2000.[63]

Honors and awards given to Edison

The President of the Third French Republic, Jules Grévy, on the recommendation of his Minister of Foreign Affairs Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire and with the presentations of the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs Louis Cochery, designated Edison with the distinction of an 'Officeer of the Legion of Honour' (Légion d'honneur) by decree on November 10, 1881;[64]

In 1983, the United States Congress, pursuant to Senate Joint Resolution 140 (Public Law 97—198), designated February 11, Edison's birthday, as National Inventor's Day.

In 1887, Edison won the Matteucci Medal. In 1890, he was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Edison was ranked thirty-fifth on Michael H. Hart's 1978 book The 100, a list of the most influential figures in history. Life magazine (USA), in a special double issue in 1997, placed Edison first in the list of the "100 Most Important People in the Last 1000 Years", noting that the light bulb he promoted "lit up the world". In the 2005 television series The Greatest American, he was voted by viewers as the fifteenth-greatest.

In 2008, Edison was inducted in the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

Other items named after Edison

The United States Navy named the USS Edison (DD-439), a Gleaves class destroyer, in his honor in 1940. The ship was decommissioned a few months after the end of World War II. In 1962, the Navy commissioned USS Thomas A. Edison (SSBN-610), a fleet ballistic missile nuclear-powered submarine. Decommissioned on December 1, 1983, Thomas A. Edison was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on April 30, 1986. She went through the Navy's Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program at Bremerton, Washington, beginning on October 1, 1996. When she finished the program on December 1, 1997, she ceased to exist as a complete ship and was listed as scrapped.

In popular culture

Thomas Edison has appeared in popular culture as a character in novels, films, comics and video games. His prolific inventing helped make him an icon and he has made appearances in popular culture during his lifetime down to the present day. His history with Nikola Tesla has also provided dramatic tension and is a theme returned to numerous times.

See also


  1. ^ Baldwin, Neal (1995). Edison: Inventing the Century. Hyperion. pp. 3–5. ISBN 0-7868-6041-3. 
  2. ^ "Edison Family Album". US National Park Service. Retrieved March 11, 2006. 
  3. ^ "Edison" by Matthew Josephson. McGraw Hill, New York, 1959, ISBN 0-07-033046-8
  4. ^ "Edison: Inventing the Century" by Neil Baldwin, University of Chicago Press, 2001, ISBN 0-226-03571-9
  5. ^ Josephson, p 18
  6. ^ "GE emerges world's largest company: Forbes". Trading April 10, 2009. Retrieved February 7, 2010. 
  7. ^ "GE emerges world's largest company: Forbes". Indian April 9, 2009. Retrieved February 7, 2010. 
  8. ^ Baldwin, page 37
  9. ^ Baldwin, pages 40–41
  10. ^ "U. S. Patent 90,646". Retrieved 2010-01-09. 
  11. ^ The Edison Papers, Rutgers University. Retrieved March 20, 2007.
  12. ^ Baldwin 1995, p.60
  13. ^ Baldwin 1995, p.67
  14. ^ "Older Son To Sue To Void Edison Will; William, Second Child Of The Counsel.". New York Times. October 31, 1931. "The will of Thomas A. Edison, filed in Newark last Thursday, which leaves the bulk of the inventor's $12 million estate to the sons of his second wife, was attacked as unfair yesterday by William L. Edison, second son of the first wife, who announced at the same time that he would sue to break it." 
  15. ^ The Life of Thomas Edison. American Memory from the Library of Congress. Retrieved March 3, 2009.
  16. ^ Virtual Museum, IEEE. Retrieved Jan 15, 2007
  17. ^ "Madeleine Edison a Bride. Inventor's Daughter Married to J. E. Sloan by Mgr. Brann.". New York Times. June 18, 1914, Thursday. 
  18. ^ "Mrs. John Eyre Sloane Has a Son at the Harbor Sanitarium Here.". New York Times. January 10, 1931, Saturday. 
  19. ^ "Charles Edison, 78, Ex-Governor Of Jersey and U.S. Aide, Is Dead". New York Times. August 1969. 
  20. ^ "Edison's Widow Very III". New York Times. August 21, 1947, Thursday. 
  21. ^ "Rites for Mrs. Edison". New York Times. August 26, 1947, Tuesday. 
  22. ^ Evans, Harold, "They Made America." Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2004. ISBN 0-316-27766-5. p. 152.
  23. ^ "Moses G. Farmer, Eliot's Inventor". Retrieved March 11, 2006. 
  24. ^ Shulman, Seth (1999). Owning the Future. Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 158–160. 
  25. ^ "Real Labor", Time Magazine, Dec. 8, 1930. (retrieved Jan 10, 2008)
  26. ^ a b c d e f g Israel, Paul (2000). Edison: A Life of Invention. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471362700. 
  27. ^ a b U.S. Patent 0,223,898
  28. ^ Flannery, L. G. (Pat) (1960). John Hunton's Diary, Volume 3. pp. 68, 69. 
  29. ^ ""Keynote Address – Second International ALN1 Conference (PDF)"". 
  30. ^ "Diehl's Lamp Hit Edison Monopoly," Elizabeth Daily Journal, Friday Evening, October 25, 1929
  31. ^ "About the Memory of a Theatre". National Theatre Brno. Retrieved December 30, 2007. . Retrieved September 18, 2007.
  32. ^ A brief history of Con Edison:"Electricity"
  33. ^ "IMDB entry on Electrocuting an Elephant (1903)". Retrieved March 11, 2006. 
  34. ^ "Wired Magazine: "Jan. 4, 1903: Edison Fries an Elephant to Prove His Point"". Retrieved January 4, 2008. 
  35. ^ "Electrocution Thresholds for Humans". Retrieved February 26, 2009. 
  36. ^ Tony Long (January 4, 2008). "Jan. 4, 1903: Edison Fries an Elephant to Prove His Point". AlterNet. Retrieved January 4, 2008. 
  37. ^ Lee, Jennifer (November 14, 2007). "Off Goes the Power Current Started by Thomas Edison". The New York Times Company. Retrieved December 30, 2007. 
  38. ^ Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library: Edison fears the hidden perils of the x-rays. New York Worldb/, Aug 3, 1903, Durham, NC.
  39. ^ "The Thomas A. Edison Papers". Retrieved January 29, 2009. 
  40. ^ "Tesla – Master of Lightning:Coming to America". Retrieved March 11, 2006. 
  41. ^ Jonnes, p110
  42. ^ "Quotations Page". 
  43. ^ "Tesla Says Edison was an Empiricist. Electrical Technician Declares Persistent Trials Attested Inventor's Vigor. 'His Method Inefficient' A Little Theory Would Have Saved Him 90% of Labor, Ex-Aide Asserts. Praises His Great Genius.". New York Times. October 19, 1931. "Nikola Tesla, one of the world's outstanding electrical technicians, who came to America in 1884 to work with Thomas A. Edison, specifically in the designing of motors and generators, recounted yesterday some of ..." 
  44. ^ "History of Edison Motion Pictures". Retrieved October 14, 2007. 
  45. ^ Leonard–Cushing fight Part of the Library of Congress/Inventing Entertainment educational website. Retrieved 12/14/06.
  46. ^ "Martin Loiperdinger. ''Film & Schokolade. Stollwercks Geschäfte mit lebenden Bildern ''. KINtop Schriften Stroemfeld Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, Basel 1999 ISBN 3-87877-764-7 (Buch) ISBN 3-87877-760-4 (Buch und Videocassette". Retrieved January 29, 2009. 
  47. ^ "Guido Convents, ''Van Kinetoscoop tot Cafe-Cine de Eerste Jaren van de Film in Belgie, 1894–1908, pp. 33–69.'' Universitaire Pers Leuven. Leuven: 2000. Guido Convents, "'Edison's Kinetscope in Belgium, or, Scientists, Admirers, Businessmen, Industrialists and Crooks", pp. 249–258. in C. Dupré la Tour, A. Gaudreault, R. Pearson (Ed.) ''Cinema at the Turn of the Century''. Québec, 1999". Retrieved January 29, 2009. 
  48. ^ "Thomas Edison". Greater Sudbury Heritage Museums. Retrieved December 30, 2007. 
  49. ^ Rémi Fournier Lanzoni, French Cinema: From Its Beginnings to the Present, (2002)
  50. ^ Siegmund Lubin (1851–1923), Who's Who of Victorian Cinema. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
  51. ^ "History of Edison Motion Pictures: Early Edison Motion Picture Production (1892–1895)",, Library of Congress. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
  52. ^ a b Reader's Digest, March 1930, pp. 1042–1044, "Living With a Genius", condensed from The American Magazine February 1930
  53. ^ Armbrester, Margaret E. (1992). The Civitan Story. Birmingham, AL: Ebsco Media. p. 34. 
  54. ^ Holland, Kevin J. (2001). Classic American Railroad Terminals. MBI Publishing Company. ISBN 0760308322. 
  55. ^ "Thomas Edison Dies in Coma at 84; Family With Him as the End Comes; Inventor Succumbs at 3:24 A.M. After Fight for Life Since He Was Stricken on August 1. World-Wide Tribute Is Paid to Him as a Benefactor of Mankind". New York Times. October 18, 1931. "West Orange, New Jersey, Sunday, October 18, 1931. Thomas Alva Edison died at 3:24 o'clock this morning at his home, Glenmont, in the Llewellyn Park section of this city. The great inventor, the fruits of whose genius so magically transformed the everyday world, was 84 years and 8 months old." 
  56. ^ Benoit, Tod (2003). Where are they buried? How did they die?. Black Dog & Leventhal. p. 560. ISBN 1-57912-678-2. 
  57. ^ "Is Thomas Edison's last breath preserved in a test tube in the Henry Ford Museum?", The Straight Dope, 11-Sep-1987. Retrieved August 20, 2007.
  58. ^ ""No Immortality of the Soul" says Thomas A. Edison. In Fact, He Doesn't Believe There Is a Soul — Human Beings Only an Aggregate of Cells and the Brain Only a Wonderful Machine, Says Wizard of Electricity.". New York Times. October 2, 1910, Sunday. "Thomas A. Edison in the following interview for the first time speaks to the public on the vital subjects of the human soul and immortality. It will be bound to be a most fascinating, an amazing statement, from one of the most notable and interesting men of the age ... 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." 
  59. ^ Cited in Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America's Greatest Inventor by Sarah Miller Caldicott, Michael J. Gelb, page 37.
  60. ^ Jonnes
  61. ^ Bellis, Mary. "Death, Money, and the History of the Electric Chair". Retrieved February 23, 2010. "On January 1, 1889, the world's first electrical execution law went into full effect. Westinghouse protested the decision and refused to sell any AC generators directly to prison authorities. Thomas Edison and Harold Brown provided the AC generators needed for the first working electric chairs. George Westinghouse funded the appeals for the first prisoners sentenced to death by electrocution, made on the grounds that "electrocution was cruel and unusual punishment." Edison and Brown both testified for the state that execution was a quick and painless form of death and the State of New York won the appeals." 
  62. ^ "Edison Community College (Ohio)". Retrieved January 29, 2009. 
  63. ^ "Thomas A. Edison Patent Award". American Society of Mechanical Engineers. 
  64. ^ NNDB online website. The same decree awarded German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz with the designation of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, as well as Alexander Graham Bell. The decree preamble cited "for services provided to the Congress and to the International Electrical Exhibition"


  • Albion, Michele Wehrwein. (2008). The Florida Life of Thomas Edison. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. ISBN 978-0-8130-3259-7. 
  • Adams, Glen J. (2004). The Search for Thomas Edison's Boyhood Home. ISBN 978-1-4116-1361-4. 
  • Angel, Ernst (1926). Edison. Sein Leben und Erfinden. Berlin: Ernst Angel Verlag. 
  • Baldwin, Neil (2001). Edison: Inventing the Century. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-03571-9. 
  • Clark, Ronald William (1977). Edison: The man who made the future. London: Macdonald & Jane's: Macdonald and Jane's. ISBN 0-354-04093-6. 
  • Conot, Robert (1979). A Streak of Luck. New York: Seaview Books. ISBN 0-87223-521-1. 
  • Essig, Mark (2004). Edison and the Electric Chair. Stroud: Sutton. ISBN 0-7509-3680-0. 
  • Essig, Mark (2003). Edison & the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death. New York: Walker & Company. ISBN 0-8027-1406-4. 
  • Jonnes, Jill (2003). Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-50739-6. 
  • Josephson, Matthew (1959). Edison. McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-07-033046-8. 
  • Pretzer, William S. (ed). (1989). Working at Inventing: Thomas A. Edison and the Menlo Park Experience. Dearborn, Michigan: Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village. ISBN ISBN 0-933728-33-6. 
  • Stross, Randall E. (2007). The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. Crown. ISBN 1-400-04762-5. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-02-111931-10-18) was an American inventor and businessman who developed many devices which greatly influenced life worldwide into the 21st century.



I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.
  • Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
    • This is presented as a statement of 1877, as quoted in From Telegraph to Light Bulb with Thomas Edison (2007) by Deborah Hedstrom, p. 22
  • During all those years of experimentation and research, I never once made a discovery. All my work was deductive, and the results I achieved were those of invention, pure and simple. I would construct a theory and work on its lines until I found it was untenable. Then it would be discarded at once and another theory evolved. This was the only possible way for me to work out the problem. ... I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed 3,000 different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and apparently likely to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory. My chief difficulty was in constructing the carbon filament. . . . Every quarter of the globe was ransacked by my agents, and all sorts of the queerest materials used, until finally the shred of bamboo, now utilized by us, was settled upon.
    • On his years of research in developing the electric light bulb, as quoted in "Talks with Edison" by George Parsons Lathrop in Harpers magazine, Vol. 80 (February 1890), p. 425
  • The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.
    • This has been reprinted many times with slight variations on the wording; it is part of a much larger quote directly from Edison published in 1903:
Nineteen hundred and three will bring great advances in surgery, in the study of bacteria, in the knowledge of the cause and prevention of disease. Medicine is played out. Every new discovery of bacteria shows us all the more convincingly that we have been wrong and that the million tons of stuff we have taken was all useless.
The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.
They may even discover the germ of old age. I don't predict it, but it might be by the sacrifice of animal life human life could be prolonged.
Surgery, diet, antiseptics — these three are the vital things of the future in preserving the health of humanity. There were never so many able, active minds at work on the problems of diseases as now, and all their discoveries are tending to the simple truth — that you can't improve on nature.
  • As quoted in "Wizard Edison" in The Newark Advocate (2 January 1903), p. 1 according to reasearch by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson at
There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.
  • Nonviolence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages
    • Cited in Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America's Greatest Inventor by Sarah Miller Caldicott, Michael J. Gelb, page 37, [1].
  • Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
    • Spoken statement (c. 1903); published in Harper's Monthly (September 1932)
    • Variants:
    • None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.
      • Statement in a press conference (1929), as quoted in Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindbergh (1987) by James D. Newton, p. 24.
    • Variant forms without early citation: "Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework."
      "Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."
I am much less interested in what is called God's word than in God's deeds. All bibles are man-made.
  • Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.
    • As quoted in Thomas Alva Edison : Sixty Years of an Inventor's Life (1908) by Francis Arthur Jones, p. 14
I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power!
  • I am much less interested in what is called God's word than in God's deeds. All bibles are man-made.
    • The Atlantic Monthly Vol. 128, No. 4 (October 1921), p. 520
  • My mind is incapable of conceiving such a thing as a soul. I may be in error, and man may have a soul; but I simply do not believe it. What a soul may be is beyond my understanding.
    • "Do We Live Again?" an interview with Edison, as quoted in Mr. Edison's New Argument from Design" in The Illustrated London News (3 May 1924)
  • We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Natures inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. ... 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.
    • In conversation with Henry Ford and w:Harvey Firestone (1931); as quoted in Uncommon Friends : Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel & Charles Lindbergh (1987) by James Newton, p. 31
  • There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.
    • As quoted in New Outlook (1935) by Alfred Emanuel Smith, p. 617
Discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I'll show you a failure.
  • I believe in the existence of a Supreme Intelligence pervading the Universe.
    • As quoted in Thomas A. Edison, Benefactor of Mankind : The Romantic Life Story of the World's Greatest Inventor (1931) by Francis Trevelyan Miller, Ch. 25 : Edison's Views on Life — His Philosophy and Religion, p. 293
  • We really haven't got any great amount of data on the subject, and without data how can we reach any definite conclusions? All we have — everything — favors the idea of what religionists call the "Hereafter." Science, if it ever learns the facts, probably will find another more definitely descriptive term.
    • As quoted in Thomas A. Edison, Benefactor of Mankind : The Romantic Life Story of the World's Greatest Inventor (1931) by Francis Trevelyan Miller, Ch. 25 : Edison's Views on Life — His Philosophy and Religion, p. 295
  • It is very beautiful over there!
    • These have sometimes been reported as his last words, but were actually spoken several days before his death, as he awoke from a nap, gazing upwards, as reported by his physician Dr. Hubert S. Howe, in Thomas A. Edison, Benefactor of Mankind : The Romantic Life Story of the World's Greatest Inventor (1931) by Francis Trevelyan Miller, Ch. 25 : Edison's Views on Life — His Philosophy and Religion, p. 295
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
  • There is a great directing head of people and things — a Supreme Being who looks after the destinies of the world.
    I am convinced that the body is made up of entities that are intelligent and are directed by this Higher Power. When one cuts his finger, I believe it is the intelligence of these entities which heals the wound. When one is sick, it is the intelligence of these entities which brings convalescence. You know that there are living cells in the body so tiny that the microscope cannot find them at all. The entities that give life and soul to the human body are finer still and lie infinitely beyond the reach of our finest scientific instruments. When these entities leave the body, the body is like a ship without a rudder — deserted, motionless and dead.
  • Restlessness is discontent — and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man — and I will show you a failure.
    • The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison (1948), p. 110
  • Through all the years of experimenting and research, I never once made a discovery. I start where the last man left off. ... All my work was deductive, and the results I achieved were those of invention pure and simple.
    • As quoted in Makers of the Modern World : The Lives of Ninety-two Writers, Artists, Scientists, Statesmen, Inventors, Philosophers, Composers, and Other Creators who Formed the Pattern of Our Century (1955) by Louis Untermeyer, p. 227
  • So far as the religion of the day is concerned, it is a damned fake ... Religion is all bunk.
I find out what the world needs. Then, I go ahead and invent it.
  • I have not failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
    • Response to the idea that he had failed after 10,000 experiments to develop a storage battery, as quoted in The World Book Encyclopedia (1993) Vol. E, p. 78; there are many variants on this quote, with the numbers mentioned ranging from 97 to 10,000.
    • Variants:
    • Results! I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work.
    • We have only found 586 ways that won't work and won't have to be tried again.
      Soon, we will find one that does.
    • I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work.
    • If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.
    • Failed? — why we haven't failed, we only know the thousands of ways that won't work.
      • As paraphrased in Proceedings of the Regular Meeting (1924) by The Association of American Railroads, Car Service Division, p. 23
We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything.
  • Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
    • As quoted in An Enemy Called Average (1990) by John L. Mason, p. 55
  • If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.
    • As quoted in Motivating Humans : Goals, Emotions, and Personal Agency Beliefs (1992) by Martin E. Ford, p. 17
  • If our nation can issue a dollar bond, it can issue a dollar bill. The element that makes the bond good, makes the bill good also. The difference between the bond and the bill is the bond lets money brokers collect twice the amount of the bond and an additional 20%, where as the currency pays nobody but those who contribute directly in some useful way.
    It is absurd to say our country can issue $30 million in bonds and not $30 million in currency. Both are promises to pay, but one promise fattens the userers and the other helps the people.
  • To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
    • As quoted in Behavior-Based Robotics (1998) by Ronald C. Arkin. p. 8
Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.
  • Everyone steals in commerce and industry. I've stolen a lot, myself. But I know how to steal! They don't know how to steal!
    • As quoted in Tesla : The Modern Sorcerer (1999) by Daniel Blair Stewart, p. 411
    • Variant: Everyone steals in commerce and industry. I have stolen a lot myself. But at least I know how to steal.
  • I find out what the world needs. Then, I go ahead and invent it.
    • As quoted in American Greats (1999) Edited by Robert A. Wilson and Stanley Marcus, p. 70
  • We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything.
    • As quoted in "The Limits of Knowledge and the Hope for Progress" by Francisco J. Ayala in God, Science, and Humility : Ten Scientists Consider Humility Theology (2000) by Robert L. Herrmann, p. 132
  • Hell, there are no rules here — we're trying to accomplish something.
    • As quoted in How to Think Like Einstein : Simple Ways to Break the Rules and Discover Your Hidden Genius (2000) by Scott Thorpe, p. 124
  • Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.
    • As quoted in Artifacts : An Archaeologist's Year in Silicon Valley (2001) by Christine Finn. p. 90
  • I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious ideas of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God.
    • As quoted in Jesus : Myth Or Reality? (2006) by Ian Curtis, p. 289
  • I owe my success to the fact that I never had a clock in my workroom. Seventy-five of us worked twenty hours every day and slept only four hours — and thrived on it.
    • Diary entry, as quoted in Defending and Parenting Children Who Learn Differently : Lessons from Edison's Mother (2007) by Scott Teel, p. 12

The Philosophy of Paine (1925)

Essay in The Diary and Sundry Observations (1948) edited by Dagobert D. Runes - Full essay online
I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. As we have not advanced, and perhaps never shall advance, beyond the Declaration and Constitution, so Paine has had no successors who extended his principles.
  • Tom Paine has almost no influence on present-day thinking in the United States because he is unknown to the average citizen. Perhaps I might say right here that this is a national loss and a deplorable lack of understanding concerning the man who first proposed and first wrote those impressive words, 'the United States of America.' But it is hardly strange. Paine's teachings have been debarred from schools everywhere and his views of life misrepresented until his memory is hidden in shadows, or he is looked upon as of unsound mind.
    We never had a sounder intelligence in this Republic. He was the equal of Washington in making American liberty possible. Where Washington performed Paine devised and wrote. The deeds of one in the Weld were matched by the deeds of the other with his pen.
In Common Sense Paine flared forth with a document so powerful that the Revolution became inevitable. Washington recognized the difference, and in his calm way said that matters never could be the same again.
  • I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. As we have not advanced, and perhaps never shall advance, beyond the Declaration and Constitution, so Paine has had no successors who extended his principles. Although the present generation knows little of Paine's writings,and although he has almost no influence upon contemporary thought, Americans of the future will justly appraise his work. I am certain of it.
    Truth is governed by natural laws and cannot be denied. Paine spoke truth with a peculiarly clear and forceful ring. Therefore time must balance the scales.
  • Looking back to those times we cannot, without much reading, clearly gauge the sentiment of the Colonies. Perhaps the larger number of responsible men still hoped for peace with England. They did not even venture to express the matter that way. Few men, indeed, had thought in terms of war.
    Then Paine wrote 'Common Sense,' an anonymous tract which immediately stirred the fires of liberty.
    It flashed from hand to hand throughout the Colonies. One copy reached the New York Assembly, in session at Albany, and a night meeting was voted to answer this unknown writer with his clarion call to liberty. The Assembly met, but could find no suitable answer. Tom Paine had inscribed a document which never has been answered adversely, and never can be, so long as man esteems his priceless possession.
    In 'Common Sense' Paine flared forth with a document so powerful that the Revolution became inevitable. Washington recognized the difference, and in his calm way said that matters never could be the same again.. It must be remembered that 'Common Sense' preceded the declaration and affirmed the very principles that went into the national doctrine of liberty. But that affirmation was made with more vigor, more of the fire of the patriot and was exactly suited to the hour. It is probable that we should have had the Revolution without Tom Paine. Certainly it could not be forestalled, once he had spoken.
  • Many a person who could not comprehend Rousseau, and would be puzzled by Montesquieu, could understand Paine as an open book. He wrote with a clarity, a sharpness of outline and exactness of speech that even a schoolboy should be able to grasp. There is nothing false, little that is subtle, and an impressive lack of the negative in Paine. He literally cried to his reader for a comprehending hour, and then filled that hour with such sagacious reasoning as we find surpassed nowhere else in American letters — seldom in any school of writing.
  • 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.
    His Bible was the open face of nature, the broad skies, the green hills. He disbelieved the ancient myths and miracles taught by established creeds. But the attacks on those creeds — or on persons devoted to them — have served to darken his memory, casting a shadow across the closing years of his life.
    When Theodore Roosevelt termed Tom Paine a "dirty little atheist" he surely spoke from lack of understanding. It was a stricture, an inaccurate charge of the sort that has dimmed the greatness of this eminent American. But the true measure of his stature will yet be appreciated. The torch which he handed on will not be extinguished.
  • The memory of Tom Paine will outlive all this. No man who helped to lay the foundations of our liberty — who stepped forth as the champion of so difficult a cause — can be permanently obscured by such attacks. Tom Paine should be read by his countrymen. I commend his fame to their hands.


If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. ~ Nikola Tesla
  • There is time for everything.
    • This expression greatly predates any use of it by Edison. George Head used it in A Home Tour Through the Manufacturing Districts of England in the Summer of 1835 (1836), p. 198, in which he states: If time be judiciously employed, there is time for everything.

Quotes about Edison

  • To my simple mind it is not obvious that a successful electrician is an authority on the immortal soul, any more than that a successful military strategist has an ear for music, or an admirable French cook a grasp of the higher mathematics.
    • G. K. Chesterton, on the interview with Edison "Do We Live Again?" in which he stated "My mind is incapable of conceiving such a thing as a soul."
  • He felt there was a central processing core of life that went on and on. That was his conclusion. We talked of it many times together . . . Call it religion or what you like, Mr. Edison believed that the universe was alive and that it was responsive to man's deep necessity. It was an intelligent and hopeful religion if there ever was one. Mr. Edison went away expecting light, not darkness.
    • Henry Ford as quoted in Thomas A. Edison, Benefactor of Mankind : The Romantic Life Story of the World's Greatest Inventor (1931) by Francis Trevelyan Miller, p. 294
  • If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. ... I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety percent of his labor.

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