Tomorrow (11 February), is Thomas Edison’s 170th birthday; the American inventor ‘who lit up the world’.
To mark the occasion, we have taken a look at the life of this incredible pioneer whose determination and innovative mind shaped the modern world.
- Born in 1847, in Ohio, he was the youngest of seven children. His father was a political activist, and his mother, a teacher.
- A childhood bout of scarlet fever left Thomas almost totally deaf. However, he looked upon this positively, claiming his disability helped him sleep better and eliminated distractions.
- Having been branded ‘stupid’ and hyperactive by his schoolteacher, Thomas’ mother decided to home-school him. His seeming lack of focus we now recognise as down to his remarkable intelligence.
- He started working aged 12, selling newspapers aboard a railroad train and in his spare time set up a printing press and laboratory in one of the unused railcars.
- Aged 15, Thomas learnt Morse-code, and from this stemmed his interest in telegraphy and telecommunication.
- He applied for and registered his first patent in 1868, aged 21. His electrographic vote recorder (an improvement on the voice system in place) was poorly received by officials; they didn’t want a system they felt would interfere with their ability to sway voters – today they use a more sophisticated version of the same invention!
- He sold his first successful invention, a modified version of the stock-ticker machine (used in financial markets), to the Western Union Company for $40,000. Thomas used this money to set up his own business; an electrical engineering firm and testing and development laboratory.
- In 1877 he invented the phonophone, a device used to record and reproduce sound, and first recorded himself singing ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb.’ This laid the foundations for the gramophone and all musical devices that have come since.
- In 1878, he built upon Alexander Graham Bell’s work on the telephone by improving the quality and distance of the transmitted voices signals.
- He made technological history in 1879 when he invented the first electric lightbulb. And in the 1880’s advanced one step further by developing a system which generated and distributed electric-power to homes, businesses, and factories – a crucial development in the modern industrialised world.
- Finally his work on the kinetegraph camera and kinetescope viewer during the 1890’s set the groundwork in place for motion pictures.
Edison was a true visionary, who by the time of his death in 1931, had 1,093 patents to his name, so many of which played a crucial role in establishing major industries across the globe.
His is certainly a birthday worth celebrating!