Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) was an American inventor and businessman. Edison spent the vast majority of his life as an inventor. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb.
Viewed from the standpoint of inventive progress, the first half of the nineteenth century had passed very profitably when Edison appeared--every year marked by some notable achievement in the arts and sciences, with promise of its early and abundant fruition in commerce and industry. There had been exactly four decades of steam navigation on American waters. Railways were growing at the rate of nearly one thousand miles annually. Gas had become familiar as a means of illumination in large cities. Looms and tools and printing-presses were everywhere being liberated from the slow toil of man-power.
Entering the laboratory--a two-story building 100 feet long and 30 feet wide--the visitors found its rooms aglow with 25 more bulbs. Shining softly and steadily, without the familiar flicker of gaslight, the lights were easy on the eyes. "There's Edison!" someone cried, and dozens of heads turned to catch a glimpse of the inventor. Most were probably surprised to see how young he was--not quite 33 years old. And with his ill-cropped brown hair and chemical-stained clothes, a handkerchief knotted at his neck instead of a tie, he was clearly not one who put on airs. Instead, he gave the impression of a man too driven by his work to care about his physical appearance.
One of Edison's first experiments burned his father's barn to the ground, but Al's whipping in the public square failed to deter his curiosity. A practiced practical joker, he also knocked down any friend or relative gullible enough to touch his electric generator. Edison gained a few knocks himself. While selling newspapers at various railroad stations, he tried to board a moving train with a heavy load. A friendly conductor tried to help, took Edison by the ears, and lifted him aboard. According to the inventor, "I felt something snap inside my head, and my deafness started from that time."
Edison the man, however, remains elusive. He is legendary for what he did — among other things, patenting 1,093 inventions in such diverse disciplines as telegraphy, cinematography, sonics, metallurgy, chemistry and botany. What he was in person is harder, maybe impossible to say, because he put so much of himself into his work. There were times when his two wives and six children felt there was no self left over for them — loving though he could be on the occasional Sunday off. Even then, his jocular impenetrability precluded intimacy. The near-deafness that had shrouded him since puberty was a frustration for his friends, who got little out of shouting into his right ear. Edison quickened everything he touched, but could not be captured at source.
During all those years of experimentation and research, I never once made a discovery. All my work was deductive, and the results I achieved were those of invention, pure and simple.
In 1926 the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote, "The greatest invention of the 19th century was the invention of the method of invention." That method, Whitehead added, "has broken up the foundations of the old civilization." Thomas Alva Edison never thought of himself as a revolutionary; he was a hardworking, thoroughly practical man, a problem solver who cared little about ideas for their own sake. But he was also the most prodigious inventor of his era, indeed of all time, and he was recognized as the spirit of a new age by his contemporaries.
For all his long hours at the laboratory, he had even found time to take a wife. Edison had fallen in love with one of his own shop workers, sixteen-year-old Mary Stilwell, and they were married in 1871. A family tradition says that Edison headed for his workshop right after the ceremony and toiled far into the night to repair some malfunctioning stock tickers, while his puzzled bride awaited his return in unhappy solitude. Finally an associate entered the laboratory and found Edison there.
Thomas Alva Edison--known as "Al" as a child--would be the last of the seven children born to his mother, Nancy. High infant and childhood mortality in the mid-nineteenth century is encapsulated in the family history: only three of his six siblings survived beyond the age of six. All three were in their teens when he arrived on 11 February 1847--his oldest sister was eighteen--so he was soon the only child left living at his parent's house. When he was seven, the family moved to Port Huron. Michigan, a frontier town offering opportunities in lumbering and real estate speculation. His mother, a former schoolteacher, provided the homeschooling that constituted the entirety of his education, other than two brief stints at local schools. These circumstances, along with his progressive loss of hearing, nurtured the autodidact in Edison's makeup.
We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature's inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide. ... I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.
Edison and Tesla came to technological blows in the late 1800s when Tesla’s AC (alternating current) power systems that are used all over the world today came into competition with Edison’s DC (direct current) power systems. As it turns out, Tesla’s system was the better one. Tesla’s technologies were bought by railway air brake inventor George Westinghouse who developed them into what became the multinational Westinghouse company. Edison is the godfather of General Electric, presently the world’s 12th largest company. Both these guys were prolific inventors and became famous for it. But comparing them on a point by point basis, the reasons why Edison died rich and famous while Tesla died broke and lonely become clear based on relative productivity.
It wasn't until his health began to fail, in the late 1920s, that Edison finally began to slow down and, so to speak, "smell the flowers." Up until obtaining his last (1,093rd) patent at age 83, he worked mostly at home where, though increasingly frail, he enjoyed greeting former associates and famous people such as Charles Lindberg, Marie Curie, Henry Ford, and President Herbert Hoover etc. He also enjoyed reading the mail of admirers and puttering around, when able, in his office and home laboratory. Thomas Edison died At 9 P.M. On Oct. 18th, 1931 in New Jersey. He was 84 years of age. Shortly before passing away, he awoke from a coma and quietly whispered to his very religious and faithful wife Mina, who had been keeping a vigil all night by his side: "It is very beautiful over there..."