When the name Thomas Edison is mentioned, no one asks who he was. The man, born in Milan, Ohio, and once called “addled” by his teachers, is a household name worldwide, and was responsible for some of the biggest innovations of the 19th century. By the time of his death in 1931, he had registered over 1,000 patents.
Edison began his adult working life in the telegraph business, so many of his patents deal with improvements on the telegraph. There are many, however, that we are more familiar with today.
1.The phonograph. Up until 1877, no one had even considered the possibility that they would ever hear their own voice, or any other voice recorded on a machine. The need wasn’t apparent because it was a concept that was entirely unheard of. When Edison created the first phonograph, or gramophone, he recorded sounds on a tin foil cylinder, and amazed the world. While he thought of it simply as a means to record instructions or office dictation, the rest of the world soon discovered that historical speeches, books, and even music were good subjects for the new recording device. The invention was such a miracle, and so astounding that it earned him the title, “The Wizard of Menlo Park.”
2. The electric light bulb. It was always Edison’s dream to be able to illuminate the dark streets and dark homes of his time with something other than gas or oil. Once he imagined his electric light bulb, however, it took literally hundreds of experiments with various materials to find the right filament. If anything shows the tenacity and endurance of this inventor, it was his persistence with the light bulb, believing firmly that there were no failures, only successes in finding those things that do not work. He eventually arrived at the carbon filament, and later, a carbonized bamboo filament, and created a working incandescent bulb.
In the years that followed, Edison’s name was associated with the large number of electrical power plants that soon began to spring up around the country.
3. The kinetoscope. By the late 1880s, Edison had developed the kinetoscope, a small machine, operated by hand that would show a moving picture show. Later, when film was developed, the kinetoscope became the motion picture camera. While Edison himself wasn’t solely responsible for this creation, his laboratory was credited for the invention of what would eventually become the movie industry.
Thanks to Edison, who had the right inspiration at the right time, and the persistence needed to accomplish what he set out to do, his inventions continue to be an important part of everyday life.