Thomas Alva Edison


1847-1931

The man that could invent anything

The Bible and shakespeare are so woven into our lives, that we have a tendency to think every quotation comes from these two sources.
The same thing happens when we think of electricity and electrical inventions. Almost immediately, we think of Edison. This is only natural,
because Edison's work resulted in an almost endless list of inventions and dicoveries. And yet, the electric motor, the electric generator and
the dynamo were the inventions of other men.


In England, there was a man named Michael Faraday who wrote about his experiments in producing electricity through magnetism. In America,
another man, who preceded both Faraday and Edison, was conducting experiments along similar lines, but delayed making them known to the
world. Perhaps this is why he is sometimes overlooked, though today he is recognized as one of North-America's foremost physicists. This man
was Joseph Henry. He was born in Albany, New York, in the year 1797, seven years after the death of the great Benjamin Franklin.



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

Henry's family was poor. Determined to get an education, he attended evening classes at Albany Academy, which was one of the few schools
that taught science at that time. Later, he became professor of chemistry at the Academy. When Henry finally published his experiments, the world
realized that he had discorered a way to produce electricity through magnetism, or electromagnetic induction. Henry was the kind of man who never
stopped working and experimenting. Six years before Morse gave the world telegraphy, he had made a working model of an electric telegraph
which he demonstrate over a mile of wire. With the electrical relay, which he also introduced, the telegraph circuit could have been extended
indefinitely. In fact, when Morse went to Henry for advice he was shown how to incorporate Henry's relay so that his telegraph would carry over
a great distances. This fact is no way lessens the greatness of Morse's achievement, but indicates that Joseph Henry was an original experimenter.


In the year 1832, Henry was appointed professor of naturan philosophy at the college of New Jersey (now Princeton University), where he continued
his experiments and research. It was during this period that he invented the transformer, demontrated the transmission of radio waves, and made
some very important metereological observations. At the invitation of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., an organization founded
"for the increase and diffusion of knowledge", Henry became its first secretary. There, despite his administrative duties, he continued his work
in meteorology and laid the foundation for methods of forecasting the weather. Joseph Henry was born fifty years before Thomas Edison. much
of his work formed a "background" for Edison's work. Another inventor who is part of that background is Charles Brush, who invented the
arc light before Edison found that bamboo would make a long lasting filament for electric light bulbs in the home. It can be said that just as the
work of Joseph Henry, Charles Brush, and other scientist became part of Edison's background.


As a young boy, Edison could not learn in school. After three months of school, Edison was taught at home by his mother. When he was twelve
years old, the family moved to Michigan. Here the boy became a magazine and candy vendor on trains. All the money he was able to save
after helping his family, he put into a chemical laboratory. He experimetned with chemicals until one day a bottle of phosphors fell to the floor
of the railroad car and set it afire. The conductor, who had favored tom up to this time, put the boy off at the next station. Edison's next
experiment was carried on the artic of his home. He rigged a homedade telegraph line from his house to a neighbor's house. The
neighbor's cow got tangled in the wire, and that was the end of that experiment.


While still in his teens Edison studied telegraphy at night and worked as a telegraph operator during the day. His remarkable memory served to
make him an excellent operator as he could carry long messages in his head. Meanwhile, he continued his experiments in his laboratory. He
never seemed to stay long on a job, but never found it difficult to get another. He finally landed in Boston as a telegraph operator, and there
he worked on his invention of an electric vote recorder. We remember Edison, as the Wizard of Menlo Park, because of the thousand and
one inventions he gave us. And yet, his inventions were not always welcomed. When he took his electric vote recorder to Washington, a
horrified congressman told him that a recorder was the last thing congress wanted. He felt that such a recorder would ruin the chances of the
minority who depended on delay, not speed, in voting.


Edison's big opportunity came when the telegraphic ticker in the Gold Room of the New York Stock Exchange broke down. The ticker
was connected with the brokerage offices of the city. It showed the price and the amount of gold being traded and every minute without
it made the traders more frantic. Edison happened to be on hand at the time, again looking for a job. When he offered to find the trouble
and did, the grateful company rewarded him with an excellent job. Only a few vonths later, he decided to turn his full attention to inventing
and left the job. An improved ticker was his first product and the sale of the patent fo it brought him the sum of $40,000.00. This money
enabled Edison to open a commercial laboratory where some of his experiments resulted in such inventions as the multiple telegraph for
sending fouir messages at a time, an electric pen, waxed paper, and the mimeograph.


Edison's talent were now recognized and he had no trouble finding backers. He soon was able to buy property at Menlo Park, New Jersey,
where he established his permanent laboratories and became known as "The wizard". Here he conducted countless experiments, and it
was here that the carbon telephone transmitter, the first phonograph and the electric light bulb were invented. Edison called Menlo Park
the "invention factory". Menlo Park became the gathering place for mathematicians, physicists, chemical engineers and other scientists.
They worked out the theories that Edison, the practical inventor, did not have time for. Edison was a "trial-and-error" inventor. He found
life satisfying when he could work with his hands.



Edison with his phonograph (2nd model) april 1878.

When a friend suggested that he look into the use of electricity for lighting, Edison immediatly set off on a project which would transform
the economy of the United State and the world. He saw that the problem was to "subdivide" light so that it could be used in homes. For
this he would need a thin, hight-resistance filament that would use only a small amount of current. Unlike his good friend Henry Ford,
Edison did not want to be a manufacturer. However, he realize that in order to sell to the average user of current, the bulb would have
to be low in cost and long-lasting. His first successful bulb had a filament of carbonized thread but lasted only about thirty hours. Then
he tried platinum. He had almost decided to use this, when he found that overloading melted the platinum wire.


Early in 1800 he happened to pick up a palm leaf fan and accidentally pulled out a splinter of the tough bamboo. He set to work experimenting
with the bamboo and found that it worked well as a filament. Lamps were made with this filament for a number of years before tungsten took
its place. By this time Edison had the backing of such wealthy men as Morgan, Vanderbilt and others. He was now ready to build a complete
electric light plant for the city of New York, a plan which Morgan looked on with great interest and favor. Morgan's house was wired and
serviced by one of Edison's first electric light plants. The Pearl street electric light plant in New York city is regarded as one of
Edison's greatest achievements. Huge boilers and steam engines had to be installed to provide the power to turn the jumbo dynamo armatures.
Motors, fixtures, junction boxes and other devices were all built by Edison's workers under his gudance.


He was in such a hurry to open the station on september 4, 1882, that customers used the current for six months before the inventor got around
to inventing a meter. When the great day came for turning on the current, Edison, imposing in his Prince Albert suit and white derby, flipped a
a switch in the Morgan office at Broad and wall streets in New York city. A few minutes later, with his clothes rumpled and his hat covered
with grease, he was also capable of being his own mechanic. Edison never stopped working and experimenting. At one time, he worked on a
crude phonograph which later developed into the "talking machine". It became the basis for our modern record-playing mechanism and
tape-recorders. He also invented a Kinetoscope, which people called a "peep show". This was a machine that, with the use of film strip, showed
pictures that moved. He invented a camera to make the film strip, and bult the first motion picture studio in North-America. Although the
pictures shown by the kinoscope could be viewed by only one person at a time, Edison's patent stated that the pictures could also be projected
on a screen.


Edison is often credited with having invented motion pictures. It cannot, however, be said that one man alone was the inventor. Our modern
motion pictures is the result of work of many inventors and scientists. Edison's inventions had made him a wealthy man. He was able to build
himself a handsome home in West Orange, New Jersey, where he set up a large and elaborate laboratory with all the latest electrical
equipment. In this laboratory the experiments for most of his later inventions took place. He had gradually been going deaf, but refused to
wear a hearing aid. He said that the talk of other people (even his wife) annoyed him and disturbed his thought processes.


In 1893 Edison built and patented the electric automobile called the "Edison electric". These automobiles were popular with older people who
liked the quiet and ease with which they could be operated. About this time Edison advocated that when making buildings, the concrete be
poured, instead of laid down. Few people took his suggestion seriously then. In this idea and in many others, Edison was far ahead of his
time. During world war I, Edison experimented with synthetics for rubber and chemicals. He found that rubber could be made from
godenrod, but that the process was too costly to be practical. He had better success with synthetic dyes. One Edison's later ideas was the
use of aptitude tests to evaluate the fitness of applicants for employment. When Edison expressed this idea several newspaper made fun
of him.


Edison was to the 19th centure what Benjamin Franklin was to the previous century. In the course of his life Edison was granted one thousand
and ninety-three patents in America and abroad. He was the most prolific inventor of all the time. He was the master mind, the forming spirit
for the advances that followed in the field of electronics. Radio broadcasting and modern television owe Edison a great debt. During an
experiment with a vacuum tube, Edison noticed a leak in the current accross a gap in the tube. Following this observation, he developed the
"Edison effect" lamp. This device made use of mysterious impulses (later to be called electronic) that rectified voltages. This lamp was one of
the bases for De Forest's audio tube, for Langmuir's high vacuum tube for long distance broadcasting, and Edwin H. Armstrong's amplifying
system that dispensed with ear-phones. Although Edison did not live to see developments such as frequency modulation, transistors, and
IBM computers, many of the sceintific marvels of our "space age" are outgrowths of the work he did.

There is not doubt that this man contribute to the molding of the great North America.

The men who molded North America


Julio Duran

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