Alva Edison The
accomplishments and life of electrical engineer and entrepreneur Thomas
Innovator (total of 1,093 patents)
1847-1931, Milan, Ohio, USA
Thomas Edison became
a telegrapher in Port Huron, Michigan at age 16. In 1869 young
innovator Edison patented an electric vote recorder, but its unconventionality
led to commercial failure, forcing Edison to focus on marketability
as he innovated. Knowing the telegraph's extensive use led the
newly entrepreneurial Edison to develop a telegraph to receive
two messages while simultaneously sending two - a "quadruplex"
capacity. Western Union purchased Edison's technology, financially
enabling him to relocate from Newark, NJ to nearby Menlo Park.
He created a premiere industrial research lab in 1876. In 1878
Edison founded the Edison Electric Lighting Company in lower Manhattan
to produce his new incandescent filament bulbs.
Increasing use of dynamos
provided DC power to a wide variety of technologies from trolley
motors to electric arc furnaces. The Wallace dynamo, shown at
the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, inspired Edison
to work on advancing dynamo technology. His version was belt driven
and involved a lower internal resistance, larger bipolar magnets
and greater efficiency. He formed Edison Machine Works in 1880
to produce his dynamos.
Edison then innovated
a complete system to deliver DC power to large areas using his
dynamos. His Edison Illuminating Company (formed in 1882) in lower
Manhattan constructed the first U.S. commercial electric power
generation station and distribution system to power a mile square
residential and business area. He offered his customers more efficient
lighting more cost effectively.
In 1886 Edison relocated the Edison Machine Works to Schenectady,
NY - reminiscent of his rural birthplace involved in shipping
grain by canal, he saw the Erie Canal as advantageous in receiving
materials and shipping products. Three years later, Edison merged
Edison Machine Works with Edison Electric Light Company, Bergmann
& Company and the Edison Lamp Company to form Edison General
Electric Company in Schenectady. Edison General Electric then
merged with Thomson -Houston Company
to form General Electric Company in 1892. Edison's difficult personality
and reluctance to deal with AC
power led the board of the General Electric to reduce his
influence in the company. He remained a figurehead with little
power after he sold his 10% stake in the company. By the 1890s
a new crop of innovators like Steinmetz,
William Stanley, Dr. Lois Bell, and Thomson took the reigns
as leaders of AC power innovations
at GE. Edison was left to pursue his passions and projects freely
without the control of GE's board.
Written by Breanna
Day and M. Whelan
Edison Biography: By Dr. Edwin Reilly Jr.
Thomas A. Edison was
born in Milan, Ohio, February 11, 1847. In 1854 the family moved
to Port Huron, Michigan, where seven-year old Tom Edison set up
his first chemical laboratory in the cellar of their large house.
When he was 12 he got
his first job as train-boy on the Grand Trunk Railroad. It was
on this run between Detroit and Port Huron that he acquired exclusive
newsdealer's rights selling candy and papers on the train.
Edison's career as
a telegraph operator began when he saved the station agent's young
son from the path of a moving freight car. Out of gratitude the
father taught Edison the new science of telegraphy. By the time
he was seventeen, Edison was "on the road" as a telegraph
operator. He drifted from Stratford, Canada, to Adrian, Michigan,
Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Boston.
When he was 21 years
old Edison went to New York, almost penniless. By fixing a broken-down
machine in the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company, he landed a $300
a month job as superintendent of the company. At the same time
he was making many inventions, among them the "Universal"
stock ticker. For this and other inventions he received $40.000
and with this money he opened a manufacturing shop in Newark,
making stock tickers.
At the age of 29 he
went to Menlo Park to make perhaps the greatest invention of all
- a successful incandescent electric lamp. Out of the Edison laboratory
in the important years between 1876 to 1886 came the carbon
telephone transmitter, the phonograph, the Edison dynamo
and the Edison incandescent lamp.
When the electrical system with which he hoped to light whole
cities required a new piece of machinery or a new device, Edison
developed it. And if after developing it he could find no manufacturer,
he would set up his own plants for manufacturing the equipment
he had invented. By the very force of necessity the wizard of
Menlo Park became a manufacturer of New York City. On September
4, 1882, Edison started operating the Pearl Street Station, the
first central generating station to light New York City.
The Edison interests
were expanding and in 1886 Edison sent his agents to look for
suitable sites for a new factory. On the outskirts of Schenectady
stood two unfinished factory buildings, which were to have been
the McQueen Locomotive Works. The location of these buildings
impressed Edison and he negotiated to purchase the two plants
which were soon turning out the dynamos needed by the Edison generating
stations. Other buildings sprang up alongside the original shops
and in 1892 this plant became the headquarters of the newly formed
General Electric Company.
It began to be apparent
early in the 1890s that electrical development was being held
up because no company controlled the patents on all the necessary
elements for installing an efficient and serviceable system. The
conviction was taking shape that the incandescent lamp and the
alternating-current transformer system
belonged together. The outcome in 1892 was the formation of the
General Electric Company with the consolidation of the Thomson-Houston
and the Edison General Electric Companies. Edison's was one of
the many distinguished names which appeared on the first Board
of Directors of the new Company. At this period, however, he concerned
himself less and less with manufacturing activities and soon devoted
his entire time to his laboratory in West Orange to perfect a
modernized phonograph, a motion picture camera, and an electrical
During World War
I Edison experimented on many war problems for the US Government,
among them the sound detection of guns and submarines, airplane
detection, increasing power and effectiveness of torpedoes, improving
submarines and mining harbors. But some of Edison's greatest contributions
to America's war efforts were in developing synthetic products
for goods we could no longer get from Europe.
Honors and awards were
bestowed lavishly on Mr. Edison by persons, societies and countries
throughout the world. His greatest honor perhaps, was the Congressional
Medal of Honor, the nation's highest recognition of service.
Edison died October
18, 1931 in Llewellyn Park, New Jersey at the age of eighty-four.
by Neil Baldwin. University of Chicago Press. 2001
Wikipedia "Thomas Alva Edison"
The Schenectady Museum
Dr. Edwin Reilly Jr. - Professor
emeritus State University of New York at Albany
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