If you are struggling to accomplish something important, you can learn from the life of Thomas Edison. He didn't give up until he achieved his goals, despite profound deafness. As a boy, he studied science in his spare time and conducted science experiments that prepared him for a career as an inventor. You probably know about his experiments to create a practical light bulb, but you might not know that he invented more than 1,000 products.
The youngest of seven children, Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio, in the USA. Like his father and brother, Edison suffered from hearing loss. Edison attended school for a few months, but teachers considered him a poor student, so his mother, Nancy Elliott Edison, home-schooled him. At age 12, Edison took a job on the railway selling sweets and newspapers, including a newspaper he published. As a teenager he rescued a toddler from an oncoming train. The child's grateful father taught Edison to use the telegraph.
His adult years
In 1868, Edison moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to work in a telegraph office. On Christmas Day, 1871, Edison married Mary Stilwell and they moved to New Jersey. Together they had three children: Marion, Thomas Jr. and William. His wife died in 1884 and two years later, Edison married Mina Miller. They had three children: Madeleine, Charles and Theodore. Because of Edison's poor health, the Edison family spent winters in Fort Myers, Florida, where they entertained friends including Henry Ford, owner of the Ford Motor Company, and Harvey Firestone, founder of a large car tyre manufacturing company.
Edison patented 1,093 inventions. His first patented invention, a device for quickly recording votes in the United States Congress, was a failure. After this setback, he only invented things people wanted. He invented a phonograph that attracted so much attention, then-President Rutherford B. Hayes asked Edison to demonstrate the invention in the White House. Although he did not invent the first light bulb, Edison experimented with different light bulbs until he developed a light bulb that didn't burn out quickly. He spent 10 years working on an alkaline battery that became a lucrative seller. He invented a system for filming and showing movies but within 20 years, the field became so competitive that he withdrew from the motion picture industry.
Because Edison hated the smell of cooking, he constructed a separate building on his Florida estate to house the kitchen. He often worked all night and slept in his laboratory. A practical joker, Edison described to a reporter a new invention for contacting dead people, but later said he was just joking. Edison taught Morse code to his wife Mina so they could communicate secret messages to each other in public.
- Library of Congress: The Life of Thomas A. Edison
- National Park Service: Thomas Edison Frequently Asked Questions
- National Park Service: Thomas Edison Timeline
- "The New York Times"; Thomas Edison's Florida; Alberta Eiseman; June 24, 1990
- National Park Service: Thomas Edison Biography
- "The Detroit News"; Henry Ford and Thomas Edison -- A Friendship of Giants; Patricia Zacharias; August 7, 1996