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> Thomas Alva Edison Issue: 2012-2 Section: 17-19



Teodora-Cristina Spătaru


Thomas was born in 1847 at Milan, Ohio and he spent his first seven years of life there.

Starting from the age of 12, he proved to have an enterprising spirit when he implored his mother to let him go and work as a newspaper seller on the new Grand Trunk Railway. Later on, he set up a stall of fruits and vegetables in Huron Harbor. In this way, he was able to transport the fresh products in the mail van of the train without paying. But, the most significant thing is the fact that Edison learnt the telegraphy’s value. In 1861, when the American Civil War started, human starvation for news and newspapers increased, so he came with the idea to telegraph the titles on the first page to every railway. Due to his intuition, Thomas realized that "the telegraph was a great invention", because in areas where he normally used to sell only two newspapers, he started to sell 35 newspapers.

His first significant inventions were born from his fascination for the telegraphy and from his perspective to develop an easier and faster communication. Edison set up a telegraphic line between his house and his friend’s house. Usually, he ‘’forgot’’ to bring the newspaper

home so that he could stay awake all night long receiving news throughout the telegraph from his friend. He spent hours and hours watching the operators of the telegraph in train and so Edison learnt how to use the discovery for the railway traffic control.

His early attempts with the telegraph installation led to large and important improvements in the domain. During the Civil War, he worked on the secret signals for the Unionists.

In 1864, while he was working at the Telegraph Company Western Union, he invented a transmitter which could transmit four messages in the same time. He also designed a

device which could transmit parts of the text of some messages handwritten, a first fax machine. As he started joining the selective community of inventors, he began to mark his discoveries with his name initials and his distinctive signature under the shape of an umbrella.

Edison’s love for telegraphy was so huge that he nicknamed his two children ‘’Dot’’ and ‘’Line’’, the Morse’s code signals.

The first of Edison’s inventions which was profitable was a device patented in 1871 which used the screen technique to print the stock exchange prices. This device was developed for a company in New York which rewarded him with 40.000 dollars, money which helped him to set up a laboratory at Newark, New Jersey.

In 1876, he moved his research lab at Menlo Park, near to New York. Here, he invented the phonograph which was named later on his ‘’baby’’. The recordings were made on a metal cylinder and read with a needle which moved through ditches. The second famous invention was the light bulb which made Thomas one of those who turned electricity from a scientific curiosity into a practical application that became an indispensable device for mankind.


In 1878, he founded the Edison Electric Light Company and in 1881 he set up an electric light service in New York which attracted 85 clients. New York was the first city illuminated with electric light.

To make possible the widespread use of the electric light, Edison invented a system for generating and distributing electricity, designing the first power plant between 1881 and 1882. His discoveries did not stop here and continued with the invention of the megaphone, storage battery, electric valve and kinetoscope, a first film projector.

During the First World War he continued his work under the tutelage of the U.S.A. Marine Navy. He concentrated his attention on the communication and not on the weapons, because he hated the war, developing underwater telephone lines and a battery which provided electricity on board.

In 1931, at the age of 84, he passed away, but not before the electricity made its way in the people’s houses, fueling lighting systems, gramophones and the first TVs.

The revolutionary legacy of Edison’s electric light was demonstrated by the U.S.A. way of marking his death. On the night of his funeral, the whole nation turned out the lights in his honor, and the White House was also in the dark. Even the State of Liberty was surrounded by darkness for a few moments.

A true genius leaving the world an extraordinary legacy, Thomas Alva Edison showed mankind that a creative mind can change the world and, as he said himself, “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”.



  • "Edison: His Life and Inventions", Frank Lewis Dyer, Thomas Commeford Martin,2010,Timeless Classic Books.
  • “DK Biography: Thomas Edison”, Jan Adkins, DK Publishing, New York, 2009.