February 11th, 1847 - October 18th, 1931


     Thomas Alva Edison was one of the most prolific inventors of all time.  His impact was of such a magnitude that he is regarded as “the most influential figure of the millennium…”  (The Heroes of the Age: Electricity and Man).

      Over the course of his 84 years, Thomas Edison had amassed a record 1,093 patents, which included 389 for light and power, 195 for the phonograph, 150 for the telegraph, 141 for storage batteries and 34 for the telephone. 

     To those who suffer from disability, Edison was (and is) a true role model, as he suffered from severe hearing loss.  What’s more, because of his hyperactive nature, some would suggest that he suffered from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), he only attended 12 weeks in a noisy one-room schoolhouse with 38 other kids of all ages . His teacher thought him “difficult” 

     However, disability and adversity did not prevent Thomas from developing an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.  Rather than allowing himself to be overwhelmed by these obstacles, he learned to overcome them.  His mother, an educator in her own right, set about to teach her son the ‘three Rs”.  His father encouraged him to read the great classics, giving him 10 cents for every one he completed. 

     At age 12, he began selling newspapers along the Grand Trunk Railroad line.  At this young age, Edison began publishing his own small newspaper, the Grand Trunk Herald which became a hit with passengers.

     While working at the railroad, a nearly tragic and fortuitous event occurred. Thomas saved a 3 year old from an oncoming train.  The grateful father of the child rewarded Edison by teaching him to operate the telegraph.  By age 15 , he had learned enough to be employed as a telegraph operator.  However, technology was changing and with the development of auditory signals for the telegraph, Edison, with his hearing loss, found himself at a disadvantage.  It was then that he began work on inventing devices that would make it possible to continue working, this included a printer that would convert electrical signals to letters.  In 1869 Edison quit telegraphy to pursue invention full time.

     In 1847, Edison opened his first complete testing and development laboratory in New Jersey.  At age 29, he commenced work on the carbon transmitter that ultimately allowed Alexander’s Graham Bell’s telephone to be audible enough for practical use.

     1877 Edison invented the first phonograph. This was followed by his introduction of the world’s first economically viable system of centrally generating and distributing electric light, heat and power.  Even Edison’s harshest critics granted that this was a Herculean achievement. 

     In 1878, “The Wizard of Menlo”, as Edison was nicknamed by the press, started focusing on making an inexpensive , safe , electric light bulb.  By 1879 he had a breakthrough with a platinum filament and in 1881 he set up an electric light company.

     In 1912 , automaker Henry Ford asked Edison to design a battery which he would introduce on his iconic Model T.  Thus began a relationship of mutual admiration between these two giants.

    At age 83, Edison obtained his last patent.  At that time he was mostly working at home, and although increasingly frail, he enjoyed greeting many famous admirers including Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, and Marie Curie.

     It is difficult to think of man ever evolving to this technological age without the contributions of Thomas Edison.  Although often cited for his genius, Edison had a more modest take on his achievements. To quote him: “Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration”.