Thomas-Edison

Image: Value Walk

If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward. – Thomas Edison

Edison is a very controversial character. Although during his life he patented over one thousand inventions, there are still some creations that he didn’t necessarily create from scratch, but was recognized for mass producing them. The reason why his genius is very disputed is that some of the inventions for which he takes credit didn’t actually belong to him, but were more of a modern, more functional version of other pioneer inventions.

For instance, his main source of popularity is the creation of light bulb – when in fact he just improved on the initial design in a modern way. Along with this, his huge social contribution is to the American spirit of entrepreneurship. Few people know that he was one of the founders General Electric – still one of the largest companies today.  Among the inventions that made him famous, some of the most important are the light bulb as we know it, the telephone, the movie camera, the microphone and the alkaline batteries.

 The stock ticker

While it wasn’t his invention per se, Edison did improve the telegraphy technology in order to make a universal stock printer. The gadget (at the time) was better than anything of its sort and it was purchased by the Gold and Stock Telegraph Company for $40,000 – a huge sum back then. Being one of the scientist’s first creations of this scope, the patent paved the way for a series of other scientific discoveries; it also made him a lot of money.

 

Stock ticker via storage.googleapis.com

The tinfoil phonograph

The telegraph was actually the source of inspiration in creating this device. Trying to make the telegraph transmitter more efficient, Edison started to experiment on the possibility of recording messages on the diaphragm of the receiver, using a needle. The contraption contained two needles: one for recording and the other for playback. The sound vibration made while speaking to the mouthpiece was recorded to the cylinder with tin foil. It wasn’t up until this invention that Edison was internationally famous.

 

The tinfoil phonograph via patentimages.googleapis.com

The Electric Lamp and the Light Bulb

The year when Edison first produced reliable electric light was in 1879, guiding us to the electrical age. He invented the incandescent light bulb along with the systems comprising it (a parallel circuit, an improved dynamo, devices for constant voltage, light sockets with switches). In order for this invention to be available on a large scale, he also founded one of the world’s first electric companies (which would go on to become General Electric after a huge merger) where the first carbon filament light bulb was first commercially viable. There were other versions of the light bulb previously invented, but they were either too expensive (they were using platinum) or didn’t last enough.

The electric lighting system via patentimages.googleapis.com

The Kinetographic camera

The device was described to ‘do to the eye what the phonograph does for the ear’. Edison developed a projector of his own and built a motion picture production studio from scratch, using the moving camera and viewer. The first motion picture was possible 7 years later, in 1896, and it was taken in New York City. In 1913, by combining the phonograph and the kinetoscope, he also produced the first talking motion picture.

Kinetoscope via patentimages.googleapis.com

Alkaline batteries

As he was experimenting with an iron and nickel battery, Edison discovered an alkaline solution which produced a longer-lasting battery. It was better suited for electric vehicles because of being of significantly higher energy density. As this discovery turned out to be consumer-friendly, it also became on of the most successful productions in the early 1900s.

 

The alkaline battery via patentimages.googleapis.com

 Cement

Needless to say, cement already existed at that time, but Edison’s contribution was improving the manufacture, especially using the rotary kiln. He also founded a company for this product to become widely commercially available as well.

Edison Portland Cement via patentimages.googleapis.com

 General Electric

In 1889, Edison already had several companies: Edison Lamp Company, Edison Machine Works, Bergmann & Company,  and Edison Electric Light Company. By merging with a company owned by J.P. Morgan and Anthony J. Drexel, he founded the Edison General Electric Company which was incorporated in New York on April 24, 1889.

Today, the company still exists, and even more than that – it’s one of the biggest companies in the world, with total equities of $136 billion, and over 300,000 employees.

While it’s hard for us today to imagine a world without telephones or movies, recorded music and not to mention electricity, we should remember that Edison was born in 1847. Despite the fact that he didn’t finish any of his higher academic studies, the scientist did follow an impressive number of classes on different subjects that were close to his scientific interests. No matter how disputed he may be, we should give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.

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