Our team at Falconer Electronics works with many entrepreneurs creating brand new electrical products that make our lives better. Perfecting a new product on the first try is extremely challenging if not impossible. It takes a great deal of patience and determination. Also, plenty of trial and error. Thomas Edison represents that tenacious entrepreneurial drive to reach success.
Therefore, we decided to dig deep into the life of Thomas Edison to show his massive accomplishments with New Product Development. Being in the electrical manufacturing sector, we dedicate a huge thank you to Mr. Edison’s relentless pursuit to light up the world.
Nancy Edison gave birth to Thomas Alva Edison on February 11th, 1847 in Milan, Ohio and he was the youngest of seven kids. Edison only spent seven years in Ohio before moving to Port Huron, Michigan. In Port Huron, Thomas spent only three months attending school. This being the only formal schooling he had before homeschooling by his mother, a formal school teacher. While developing a great interest in experimenting he used pocket change to purchase inexpensive chemicals. Edison’s mind wanted to see the properties of the chemicals and compare them to the textbooks.
When Edison was eleven he sold his family garden produce in the market. By the age of twelve, he sold newspapers on the trains of Grand Trunk Railroad between Port Huron and Detroit. As his business grew, he hired boys as assistants on the trains. Also, he opened two small stores in Port Huron. He gained the nickname Al and all the trainmen called him that. Thomas transferred some of his chemicals to the baggage car of the train, along with a small hand printing press from Detroit. He had the first railway chemical laboratory and railway printing press. As a result, his paper “The Weekly Herald” had grown to 800 copies.
In 1862, at the young age of fifteen, Edison worked regularly an eighteen-hour workday. One afternoon, the baggage car ran over a rough piece of track. With Edison’s laboratory inside it jolted a stick of phosphorus to the floor. This started a fire in the car that took all the efforts of Edison and the train crew to subdue. When the train finally came to a halt, all his laboratory equipment and his printing press were thrown out on the platform. This accident led to be the cause of Edison’s hearing loss that came in the years following. He found that his deafness became an asset, and kept his sunny, kind and serene personality.
In August 1862 another incident occurred. A boxcar was being shunted, at considerable speed, to a side track. The station agent’s little son had been playing on this sidetrack. Edison on the platform saw the incoming danger. He jumped on the track and reached the child just in time to haul him clear. One front wheel of the car struck his heel and threw him with the child to the side of the track. Their faces and hands were cut, but no serious injury. On the following day, the station agent offered to teach Edison the Morse telegraphy, with a view to helping him secure a position as railway telegraphist. He accepted, and in a few months, taking lessons three times a week, he became proficient at the keys. For the following six years, Edison had a career of telegraphist.
As a result, Edison became part of the service of the Western Union Telegraph Company. This was through a number of cities in the middle west, and the south. He was a noted rapid and accurate operator, frequently overseeing to press work on night duty. He spent all his available leisure time in experiment and study.
Edison’s Entry into Inventing
In October 1868, when Edison was 21 years old, he applied for his first American patent to a vote recorder. This device enabled the affirmative and negative votes of a seated voting assembly to be swiftly recorded and automatically totaled at the chairman’s desk. Edison was successful in demonstrating the invention at Washington. Unfortunately, there was no demand for a mechanism of this kind. Edison went back to his little workshop in Boston and gave up the career of a telegraphist changing entirely to the invention..
In 1869, Edison traveled to New York. One morning in New York, Edison was standing near a transmitter. It became suddenly deranged by an internal accident, causing all the indicators in the connected brokers’ offices to go bad. He knew the nature of the derangement and volunteered to correct it. He was able to restore normal operation quickly. This led to his being made manager of the system which he improved and was part of developing new inventions.
A few days after Black Friday, September 24th, 1869 when gold went to a high premium, he entered into the first recorded American firm of Consulting Electrical Engineers. After the successful sale of some of his inventions to the Western Union Telegraph Company, Edison opened machine shops at Newark, New Jersey. Also for invention and manufacture. He kept 50 workmen busy, and a night force as well. He was foreman, which meant living on the premises. Here he was part of developing a number of telegraph inventions. The quadruplex for sending and receiving four messages simultaneously over a single wire. Also the high-speed automatic telegraph. As a result, he took out nearly 120 American patents, almost all in electric telegraphy.
In 1871, Edison married Mary G. Stillwell and had three children, Marion E., Thomas A., and William L. Edison. In 1876, Edison moved his laboratory from Newark to Menlo Park, New Jersey where he could concentrate on inventing. This was the year of the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, where the new Bell telephone was first shown to the public. Edison produced a carbon-button transmitter. This virtually converted the telephone from an experiment to a commercially available apparatus. It was in his experimenting with the carbon transmitter that Edison coined the now well-known call word “Hello.” In 1877, Edison started developing the first stages of his phonograph or talking machine.
In 1878 he took up the problem of “subdivision of the electric light”. He found that a commercial incandescent lighting system would require its lamps to be connected “in parallel” not “in series.” After a number of failures, he made a successful lamp. It had a filament of a carbonized cotton thread, mounted in a highly evacuated glass globe, and sealed-in platinum-wire leads. In October 1879, his lamp glowed for 45 hours before breaking.
Edison decided to open a central incandescent lamp station in the center of the downtown business district with underground conductors. Due to Edison being his own chief engineer, the Pearl Street Station turned on its current to the lamps in the district of New York. The new incandescent lamps won popularity through their steadiness, coolness, freedom from combustion products, and reduced fire hazard. He saw the successful introduction of the incandescent lamp into factories. Also, homes would immediately admit the use of the electric motor for operating machinery and household power devices. One of these discoveries in 1883 was the “‘Edison effect”, a discharge that occurred in the lamps, when being overused.
Edison moved his laboratory from Menlo Park to New York City, after his wife’s death in August 1884. In 1886, he married Miss Mina Miller of Akron, Ohio. They made their home at West Orange, New Jersey. They had three children Madeleine, Charles, and Theodore.
Edison built a laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. He started work there in October 1887. He perfected the phonograph and made a long series of other inventions. This included the alkaline storage battery, the moving-picture camera, synthetic rubber, the telescribe, the magnetic ore separator, various improvements in manufacturing concrete and other chemical products, as well as many war inventions for the United States Government. At the time of his death on October 18, 1931, He had received 1,093 U.S. patents, a total still untouched by any other inventor.
To learn more about Thomas Edison’s Inventions, stay tuned for next weeks blog!