Twentieth-Century Geniuses: Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison (born February 11, 1847 in Milan - Ohio, died October 18, 1931 in West Orange - New Jersey) - American inventor, entrepreneur. The achievements of the laboratories he established and administered include over 1,000 patents, 1093 of which were issued in his name in the United States and 1239 outside of them, mostly similar to American patents. Founder of the prestigious scientific journal Science (1880).

Self-taught, since 1927 member of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. Among the inventions: the improvement of the Bell telephone using an inductor and a carbon microphone, phonograph (1877), patented an electric light bulb (1879), in 1891-1900 worked on the improvement of the magnetic method of enriching iron ore, in 1883 discovered the emission of thermoelectrons, in 1904 built a basic nickel-iron battery. He organized the world's first scientific and technical research institute in Menlo Park, built the world's first public-use power plant in New York in 1881–1882, owned many businesses in North America and Europe.

His methods of enforcing his patent rights have sparked much controversy. His authorship of some of the inventions attributed to him is also questioned.


He was born to a middle-class family with Dutch roots in the city of Milan, Ohio, near Lake Erie. His father, Samuel Ogden Edison, had a timber trading company. His mother, Nancy Matthews Elliott, had six children before him, three of whom died, so there was a fear that not even he could survive. He was given the name Thomas, which was often given in his family, and his middle name was Alva himself, to commemorate his friend he was doing business with. This was the name of the youngest son, using the diminutive Al.

At the age of 10, he became a local telegraph expert by activating the telegraph device himself at his city's train station. At the same time he was also expelled from the local elementary school because, according to his teacher, he asked too many questions and refused to do much of the housework, which he himself considered a waste of time. From that moment on Thomas learned everything by himself and no longer attended any "official" school. His father, who was a street vendor, took his education personally and took his son on tour to the United States and Canada.

Menlo Park

At 21, Thomas finally became independent by moving to Boston, where he was employed by the Western Union Telegraph Society. The best American engineers had their businesses and workshops in Boston. Thanks to many stores, it was possible to buy all the necessary ingredients and tools for conducting experiments. In one of these, Thomas bought works by Michael Faraday. In Charles Williams' electrical shop on Court Street, inventors like him started an unofficial club. There she recognized Williams and moved his workshop to his factory.

He proposed to the local newspaper, the Boston Daily Telegraph, to build a telegraph-based device to automatically print current stock prices. The device proved to be a complete success, and Thomas sold his invention to Boston and New York stock exchanges and newspapers, earning an astronomical $ 40,000.

With the money he opened a laboratory - the world's first "invention factory" in Menlo Park, NJ (now named after him), with the task of "creating a revolutionary invention every six months and a less important invention every 10 days. ". In addition to his own ideas, he also carried out orders for "inventions on demand", that is, solving specific technical problems that no one could previously face. The business was booming and two years later the laboratory employed sixty people.

Edison Electric Light Company

In 1886, after perfecting a light bulb, Edison convinced the financier J.P. Morgan and the very wealthy Vanderbilt family founded a company called the Edison Electric Light Company, which in 1911 was merged with more than a dozen companies operating in the electrical sector to form the General Electric Capital Company. Edison Electric Light Company built the world's first power plant and the city's first electric lighting system.

West Orange Lab

In 1887, Edison opened a further laboratory in West Orange, NJ, where it grew to be a huge laboratory center made up of several buildings. In December 1914 a great fire destroyed some buildings. In 1915 Edison rebuilt it. Today it houses a museum.