Edison, Thomas Alva


Thomas Alva Edison (1847 – 1931) - an American inventor and businessman. Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, the USA, on February 11, 1847. His father Samuel Edison was originally from Canada. Thomas did not get the regular education. His mother Nancy Edison, a former schoolmistress taught him at home. The boy read his first scientific book “School of Natural Philosophy” when he was 9 years old. Afterwards he performed practically all experiments that were described in this book.

 From his early childhood, Thomas assisted his mother. He started working very early, since he needed money for his experiments. Edison sold sweet stuff, nuts and newspapers on trains when he was 12 years old. Not to lose time he organized chemical laboratory in the baggage wagon and carried out the experiments there. He got a chance to buy a printing machine. Thus, copied the Grand Trunk Herald that was willingly bought by passengers. When he was 16, Thomas learned telegraphy and had been working as a telegraph operator for five years in various divisions of the company Western Union.

 Thomas Edison read “The experimental study of electricity“ by Michael Faraday in 1868. This book inspired him to improve the existing electric mechanisms and to create new devices. 
He received his first patent for the electric vote recorder, it was granted on June 1, 1869. Nobody bought this electric vote recorder due to the bureaucrats’ opposition. After this failure, Edison decided to deal only with those inventions that were in demand. Being curios, unmatched tenacious and of high working efficiency, he always achieved practical realization of his ideas.

 In the spring of 1869, Edison moved to New York, where he began studying mechanical devices for the gold price registration. In October, Edison formed with Franklin L. Pope and James Ashley the organization Pope, Edison and Co. They advertised themselves as electrical engineers and constructors of electrical devices. The organization was engaged in improvement of the wire system of exchange bulletins that contained gold and shares prices by usage of the devices for mechanical registration.  Later the partnership “The Gold and Stock Telegraph Company” buys his elaboration for 4 thousand dollars. This enabled Edison to open his own workshop that was equipped for the production of the stock-exchange telegraph in Newark, not far from New York. He opened two more workshops in 1871.
At that time, he was fascinated by the improvement of automatic telegraph system that was based on the use of perforated paper tape. This method increased the transmission speed from 40-50 words per minute with manual work, first up to 200 words per minute, and later up to 3 thousand words per minute on automatic machines.

 After a brief stay in England, Edison began to work on the duplex and quadruplex telegraphy that allowed transmitting simultaneously two messages in each direction. The quadruplex principle (double duplex) was known before, but it was Edison who solved the problem in 1874. This is one of his greatest inventions.
He devoted all his time to work. Later Edison said that up to the age of fifty, he worked for 19.5 hours per day at an average. During three years (1873-1876), Thomas Edison filed forty-five applications for the inventions.

 Among the first works of Edison in Menlo Park, where he moved in 1876 and where he finally was able to equip the real laboratory, was telephony. By order of the company "Western Union», Edison created the first functional carbon microphone. This made the practical application of the telephone possible. Edison received 100 thousand dollars from the Company for this invention. The inventor spent the major part of the emolument to purchase new equipment for his laboratory.

One of the most important and favorite Edison’s inventions was the first functional apparatus for recording and reproduction of sound, which he named phonograph. The name was compiled of two Greek words “phone” (sound) and “graph” (to write).
The history of this invention began in 1877, when Edison was working on the unit of automatic recording and sending telegraph messages. The device recorded the dots and dashes, cutting needle touches on a thin layer of wax covering the paper tape. While sending a message the needle was sliding on grooves, and there were sounds similar to murmur. Edison designed a device with a rotating drum, wrapped in tin foil and a sound box with a membrane and a needle pressed against the foil. Turning the drum handle, he recited the nursery rhyme about Mary who had a lamb in front of the membrane. Imagine his surprise when he put the needle in the groove on the foil and heard his own voice, reproduced by membrane.

Demonstration of the first device in "The Scientific American” editorial office caused general astonishment. After this event, Edison became known as "The Wizard from Menlo Park".
The inventor himself had seen ten promising areas for the application of the phonograph: dictation and writing letters, talking books for the blind, teaching of rhetoric, music reproduction, family notes, speeches’ recording, advertising and marketing, talking clock, training records, phone connection.

At the end of the 70s, Edison was engaged in electric incandescent lamp improvement. The idea of the lamp belonged to the Russian engineer A. Lodygin (1847-1923). It was Edison who implemented a modern form of an electric lamp with a screw cap and the cartridge in the production, as well as a plug, a socket and fuses.
In 1882, he created the company «Edison General Electric» for the production of generators, light bulbs, cables and lighting devices. Ten years later, this Company consolidated with other companies in the new holding “General Electric”.

In 1888, Edison invented a kinetoscope (or peephole viewer) and perforated film for it. In his model of kinetoscope, the film was stretched over the cylinders inside the wooden crate, moved continuously beside the eyepiece that was located atop, and was intended for individual viewing. The patent for “Kinetoscope” was received on March 14, 1893. Shortly the machine was exhibited at the exhibition in Chicago. The first demonstration of a serial device was organized at the Institute of Arts and Sciences in Brooklyn o May 9. Edison installed a coin acceptor in kinetoscope and started to supply cinemas with these devices. Different movies were shown on several devices and that brought quick returns.

Edison patented his technical ideas in different science and engineering areas: he invented a magnetic separator of iron ore in 1880; discovered the phenomenon of thermionic emission in 1882; developed an iron-nickel battery in 1908, etc. In total, he received 1093 patents in the US and about 3 thousand in other countries.

Thomas Edison died in 1931, almost until his death continuing his scientific investigations. He was awarded with the USA highest award - the Congressional Gold Medal in 1928; became an honorary foreign member of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1930.

Exhibits in the Museum Collection