Essay, Research Paper: Thomas Edison

Literature: Charles Dickens

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Edison could probably be properly called Mr. Electricity because of the many
inventions and millions of dollars that he used and invested with electricity.
From the invention of the light bulb, to the invention of the phonograph Thomas
Edison made electricity a reality for the masses. And one of his greatest
influences was from his Father a very positive man. A long with the great
influence he had upon Americans and the world. He sparked the movement of
today’s computer ran world. Thomas Edison was born February 11, 1847 in Milan,
Ohio. He was the seventh and last child of Samuel Edison, Jr. and Nancy Elliot
Edison. His parents had no special mechanical background. His mother was a
former schoolteacher; his father was a jack-of-all-trades - from running a
grocery store to real estate. When Thomas was seven years old, his family moved
to Port Huron, Michigan. He was a very curious child who asked a lot of
questions. “Edison began school in Port Huron, Michigan when he was seven. His
teacher, the Reverend G. B. Engle considered Thomas to be a dull
student.”(Allen pg. 22) Thomas especially did not like math. And he asked too
many questions. The story goes that the teacher whipped students who asked
questions. After three months of school, the teacher called Thomas,
"addled". Thomas was pissed. The next day, Nancy Edison brought Thomas
back to school to talk with Reverend Engle. The teacher told his mother that
Thomas couldn't learn. Nancy also became angry at the teacher's strict ways.
“She took Thomas out of school and decided to home-school him.”(Allen pg.
34) It appears he briefly attended two more schools. However, his school
attendance was not very good. So nearly all his childhood learning took place at
home. Edison's parents loved to read. They read to him works of good literature
and history. They had many books that young Tom eagerly devoured. Before he was
12, he had read works by Dickens and Shakespeare, Edward Gibbon's Fall of the
Roman Empire and Decline, and more. Nancy Edison encouraged her curious son to
learn things for himself. His parents were dedicated to teaching their children.
They did not force him to learn about things he didn't enjoy. So he learned
about things that interested him the most. When Thomas was nine Nancy Edison
gave him an elementary science book. It explained how to do chemistry
experiments at home. Edison did every experiment in the book. Then Nancy gave
him more books on science. He soon loved chemistry and spent all his spare money
buying chemicals from a local pharmacy. He collected bottles, wires, and other
items for experiments. Abbott Pg. 2 At age 10, Thomas built his first science
laboratory in the basement of the family's home. His father disapproved of all
the time Thomas spent in the basement. Sometimes Sam offered a penny to Thomas
if he would go back to reading books. But Thomas often used his pennies to buy
more chemicals for experiments. “He labeled all his bottles
"Poison".”(Denmark pg. 25) Edison had many ear problems throughout
his childhood. When he was 15, a train accident injured his ears more. When he
tried to jump on a moving train, a conductor grabbed the boy's ears to help pull
him up. “Thomas said he felt something snap inside his head. He soon began to
lose much of his hearing.” (Swanson pg. 34) Thomas never became deaf, but from
then on he was hard of hearing. His deafness could have been cured by an
operation. But Thomas refused the operation. He said being deaf helped him
concentrate. When Edison was 21, he got a job in Boston as an expert night
telegraph operator. Even though he worked nights, he slept little during the
day. He was too busy experimenting with electrical currents. Edison worked to
improve a telegraph machine that would send many messages at the same time over
the same wire. He borrowed money from a friend, and soon quit his job. Now he
could spend all his time inventing. The first invention that he tried to sell
was an electric vote recorder. It made voting faster and more accurate. But no
one wanted to buy it. “Today it is used in many states to record votes of
legislators.” (Allen pg. 45) He moved to New York City in the summer of 1869.
He had no money. A friend let him sleep in a basement office below Wall Street.
Edison spent a lot of time studying the stock market ticker. That was the
machine that gave information about stock market prices. It was a spin-off of
the Morse telegraph device. Once, Edison fixed a broken stock ticker so well
that that the owners hired him to build a better one. Within a year he made the
Edison Universal Stock Printer. Edison sold the rights for the stock ticker. He
thought he might get paid around $4,000 for it. He got $40,000! With all this
money, Edison started a business in Newark, New Jersey. He built stock tickers
and high-speed printing telegraphs. At this shop he improved on the typewriter.
Until Edison improved it, you could write faster than you could type. Edison was
a poor financial manager. In his late 20's, he began to have money problems.
After six years at his workshop in Newark, New Jersey, Edison asked his father
to help build a new "invention factory". Edison built his new science
laboratory at the village of Menlo Park, NJ. Now he and his two business
partners could devote their full attention to inventing. Edison promised that he
would build a small invention every ten days and a big invention every six
months! He also said he would "take orders" for inventions. Abbott Pg.
3 They moved into the new building in March 1876. His first invention was an
improvement on the telephone. Before Edison's improvement, people had to shout
when they used the telephone. The new lab had around 60 workers. It didn't
matter to Edison what a person's background was. If he thought someone had
talent, that was enough. Edison achieved his greatest successes in this
laboratory. Soon he had 40 different projects going at the same time. “He
applied for as many as 400 patents a year.” (Denmark pg. 54) His ideas and
inventions ranged from the practical to the crazy. Edison worked at Menlo Park
for over 10 years. Edison became a business partner with some of New York's
richest people, J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt’s. Together they formed the
Edison Electric Light Company. They made this company before electric light
bulbs had been invented. Today this company is called General Electric. The
phonograph was Edison's favorite invention. He invented the "talking
machine" by accident while working on telegraphs and telephones. But the
phonograph didn't go on sale to the public for another 10 years. It was a
tinfoil phonograph. “Edison called it a "talking machine" and a
"sound writing" machine.” (Allen pg. 54) This was no improvement of
existing technology. It was not something he planned to invent. This was
something brand new and Edison's most original invention. And it happened by
accident. He was working on ways to record telegraph messages automatically. The
first words he recorded were "Mary Had A Little Lamb". He was 30 years
old. He worked on and off for more than twenty years to perfect the record
player. Scientists had been working to invent electric light for many years.
Back then people used candles and gaslights to light their homes. But gaslights
were smelly and smoky. After two years in his new laboratory, Edison boasted he
would invent a safe, mild, and inexpensive electric light. Edison searched for
the proper "filament" or wire, which would give good light when
electricity flowed through it. He sent people to the jungles of the Amazon and
forests of Japan in his search for a perfect filament material. He tested over
6,000 vegetable growths (baywood, boxwood, hickory, cedar, flax, and bamboo) as
filament material. In 1879, after spending $40,000, and performing 1,200
experiments, he succeeded. He made a light bulb using carbonized filaments from
cotton thread. Carbonized thread is ordinary cotton sewing thread that has been
burned to an ash. The light bulb burned for two days. The electric light took
the greatest amount of time and required the most complicated experiments of all
his experiments. Abbott Pg. 4 One of Edison's engineers, William J. Hammer, made
a discovery, which later led to the electron tube. The electron tube led to the
electric signal, which led to electronics. Electronics is a branch of science
that is related to electricity. Without electronics we might not have radio, TV,
CDs, computers, x-ray machines or space travel. The discovery of electrons was
patented as the "Edison effect" which is the basis of electronics. In
1887 Edison built a bigger invention factory in West Orange, New Jersey. This
Edison Laboratory was 10 times larger than his first lab in Menlo Park. It is
now a national monument. This Laboratory Unit had fourteen buildings. Six of
these buildings were devoted to the "business of inventing." “The
main building alone was the size of three football fields.” (Denmark pg. 75)
It had space for machine shops, glass-blowing operations, electrical testing
rooms, chemical stockrooms, electrical power generation, and other functions. At
the Edison Laboratory they made new products and improved old products. Over
5,000 people worked there. Edison attempted to personally manage this large
staff. The story goes that when a new employee once asked about lab rules,
Edison said, "there ain't no rules around here! We're tryin' to accomplish
somep'n." Every day Edison toured this huge facility to see what was going
on. But he spent most of his time doing paperwork instead of experiments. He did
his paperwork in the library. The research library was an office and trophy
room. Edison received many, many awards throughout his life. In the center of
his office, Edison sat at a desk with three dozen pigeonholes, surrounded by
over 10,000 books. At West Orange, Edison improved the phonograph using wax
records. Now he could build phonographs to sell to the public. Out of the West
Orange laboratories came the motion picture camera and silent and sound movies.
His factory improved the alkaline storage battery, the electric pen, the copy
machine, and the dictating machine. Other inventions and improvements included a
cement mixer, the microphone, and a magnetic process to separate iron ore.
Edison invented the concept of film reels for motion-picture cameras. He also
connected a motion picture camera to a phonograph. Now he could put sound with
motion pictures! In 1913, Edison introduced the first talking moving pictures.
Before photocopying machines were invented, Edison invented an electric
"pen" which was really a puncturing device that rapidly punched holes
in a sheet of waxed paper. A historian suggested this "pen" looked
like a sewing machine. There were silly moments in the lab also. “Sometimes
they tried mixing chemicals that seemed foolish - coffee, eggs, sugaring, and
milking.” (Allen pg. 45) His Abbott Pg. 5 lab held everything for
experimenting - whalebone, tortoise shell, elephant hide, and even the hair of a
person, a native Amazonian. “It is rumored that one of Edison's friends said
the lab storeroom even had the eyeballs of a US senator.” (Denmark pg. 54)
Most of these lab substances had no practical use, but a few did. Edison used
rain-forest nuts to make phonograph needles. Japanese bamboo was used to make
filament (wire) for his light bulb. The hair of the Amazon was used for a wig
for the first talking doll. In the doll's chest was hidden a tiny phonograph
speaker. In 1915, Edison was appointed president of the U.S. Navy Consulting
Board. He believed that electricity would make weapons more powerful. He claimed
to have made an explosive that would explode if yelled at. He invented an
electric torpedo. “Edison urged Congress to establish the Naval Research
Laboratory in 1920.” (Allen pg. 58) This was the first military research
laboratory. For more than forty years, the laboratory created by Thomas Alva
Edison in West Orange, NJ, had enormous impact on the lives of millions of
people around the world. Edison's last patented invention was a way to make
manmade rubber. The lab continued to invent things even after Edison died in
1931. So to create a rough summary of Thomas Alva Edison’s life would be
simple. He was raised in a positive environment with lots of encouragement from
his father. And he made it possible for electronics to become an everyday part
of our lives.

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