Thomas Alva Edison: The Man Who Illuminated the World

Thomas Alva Edison, born on February 11th, 1847, is one of the most significant inventors in human history. His groundbreaking creations include the incandescent light bulb, phonograph, and motion picture camera, which played pivotal roles in ushering humanity into the modern industrial era and revolutionizing our lives and lifestyles.

He also improved the telegraph and telephone, which are the two edifices of modern communication in the last century.  When he died on 18th October 1931, he had an astonishing number of 1093 patents to his name. His work greatly empowered various aspects of our entertainment and business. It would not be far-fetched to say that he was the original founding father of the music and movie business as we know it today. 

Hailing from Ohio, USA, Thomas Edison was born as the seventh and youngest child to Samuel Ogden Edison Jr. and Nancy Matthews Elliott. Edison spent his formative years in Port Huron, Michigan. He was among the pioneering inventors to integrate organized science principles and teamwork into the invention process. Despite attending school for a brief period, he received homeschooling from his mother, who was a schoolteacher.

Humble Beginnings 

By 12, Edison had lost most of his hearing ability, the cause of which has spawned several stories. Edison attributed the inspiration for his invention to an incident in which he was seized by his ears and hoisted onto a train. But what is amazing is that his near disability couldn’t impede his astonishing ability. 

Edison began his career on a humble note, selling newspapers, candy, and vegetables on trains. But even in his early teenage years, he showed his passion for science when he saved money to buy equipment for carrying out his electrical and chemical experiments. From an early age, he displayed a deep interest in mechanical things and chemical experiments.

At 15, he was seen working as a telegraph operator at Stratford Junction, Ontario. While working his modest job, he studied qualitative analysis and conducted chemical experiments in his spare time.

Birth of an Inventor 

The first invention for which he received a patent was an electric vote recorder. That was in 1869. In 1874, he started working on a multiplex telegraphic system for Western Union, eventually developing a quadruplex telegraph. The machine could send two messages simultaneously in both directions. He came with an electric pen in 1875. 

With the invention of the phonograph in 1877, he gained celebrity status. The phonograph recorded and reproduced sounds and revolutionised the music industry in the process. The phonograph is a device for the mechanical and analog reproduction of recorded sound. It evolved into a gramophone, which further evolved into a tape recorder, which in turn paved the way for CD and DVD players in the course of decades. The phonograph also greatly facilitated corporate culture by being a business dictation machine. 

The Current of Success 

Though Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, British scientist Warren de la Rue developed one in 1840, seven years before Edison’s birth. His and many others’ endeavours in developing electric bulbs were not commercially feasible. These early bulbs had very short lifespans, were way too expensive to produce, and consumed too much energy.

As per the US Department of Energy, when Edison and his researchers at Menlo Park entered the lighting arena, their primary focus was on enhancing the filament. They began with trials using carbon, then explored platinum, before ultimately returning to a carbon filament. By October 1879, Edison’s team had successfully developed a light bulb featuring a carbonized filament made of uncoated cotton thread, capable of lasting for 14.5 hours They persisted in their filament experiments until they found success with one crafted from bamboo, granting Edison’s lamps a lifespan of up to 1,200 hours. This filament remained the standard for Edison bulbs for the following decade. Edison’s light bulb innovation revolutionised private lives and significantly transformed the global business landscape. This pioneering development also led to many new inventions. 

“Edison also made other improvements to the light bulb, including creating a better vacuum pump to fully remove the air from the bulb and developing the Edison screw (what is now the standard socket fittings for light bulbs),” notes the Department of Energy of the US government. 

Edison gave the first public demonstration of his incandescent light bulb on the last day of 1879, in Menlo Park where he said: “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles.”

Moving Images  

The fascinating and enthralling world of movies may not have arrived without Edison. Edison’s laboratory invented the Kinetograph (a motion picture camera) and the Kinetoscope (a peep-hole motion picture viewer), where Edison’s assistant, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, played a major role. In 1891, a patent for the Kinetograph and the Kinetoscope was filed.

These two inventions led to the eventual development of motion pictures with single-viewer Kinetoscopes, which gave way to films that were projected for audiences. Today, movies are one of the cornerstones of the billions of dollars worth of global entertainment industry. 

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