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Thomas Edison

Thomas EdisonAKA Thomas Alva Edison

Born: 11-Feb-1847
Birthplace: Milan, OH
Died: 18-Oct-1931
Location of death: Llewellyn Park, NJ
Cause of death: Diabetes complications
Remains: Buried, Edison National Historic Site, West Orange, NJ

Gender: Male
Religion: Agnostic [1]
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Inventor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Invented the light bulb

Arguably the most successful inventor in human history, Thomas Edison held 1,093 U.S. patents, and hundreds more in other nations. His most famous work includes the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, the alkaline storage battery, and a forerunner of the motion picture projector.

His father, Samuel Edison, Jr., was involved in the Mackenzie Rebellion against the government of Ottawa in 1837, after which the family was exiled to America. As a boy, Edison suffered from dyslexia and had problems with his hearing which grew worse over time, leaving him almost completely deaf by adulthood. He attended public schools for only about three months before a teacher told Edison's mother that the boy was "addled." She responded by withdrawing him from school to educate him herself. By the age of ten he had constructed a chemistry laboratory in the basement of his family's home, and at about the age of eleven, fearing that she had taught him all she could, his mother signed him up for a local library card. He began reading every book on the shelves, soon pointing out what he perceived as problems with Isaac Newton's Principia.

With his education deemed complete he began working for the railroad as a newsboy and candy seller at 12, and four years later he became an apprentice telegraph operator. Over the next several years he made slight but clever improvements to telegraph technology without filing any patents. His first "official" invention was a vote recording machine, patented in 1869. After a brief entrepreneurial partnership with New York electrician Frank Pope, designing a stock ticker and a duplex telegraph (capable of transmitting multiple messages concurrently), he worked as a freelance inventor and consultant for several years, mostly in the telegraph industry. He was a wealthy man after 1874, when millionaire Jay Gould paid the then-staggering sum of $100,000 for rights to Edison's quadruplex (a machine capable of sending up to four telegraphs concurrently).

He opened his famed laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, in 1876. The following year he invented the carbon-button transmitter (carbon microphone, which became a key component for generations of telephones) and showed the prototype for the phonograph, originally called the speaking and singing machine. With financial backing from J. Pierpont Morgan and the Vanderbilt family he launched the Edison Electric Light Company (now General Electric) in 1878, and the Edison Illuminating Company (now Consolidated Edison) in 1880. The following year he demonstrated the first practical incandescent light bulb, which provided illumination for 40 hours. In 1882, Edison's firm constructed the first commercial power system, serving lower Manhattan. In 1885 he personally supervised the electrical design and wiring of the Lyceum Theatre in New York, the first stage on Broadway lit entirely by electricity. In 1901 he invented the alkaline storage battery.

Edison's employee, William K. L. Dickson, invented the kinetograph (an early device for making motion pictures) in 1891, and Edison invented the kinetoscope (a movie viewing system) in the same year, with a patent describing motion picture film with a width of 35 millimeters, which remains the industry standard. The landmark short The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, a one-minute recreation of the monarch's beheading, was made at Edison Labs in 1895, and a former employee of Edison's, Edwin Stanton Porter, directed the first action movie, The Great Train Robbery, in 1903. Edison's other noteworthy employees included streetcar pioneer Frank J. Sprague and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla.

Edison's direct-current (DC) system of electricity was challenged by Tesla and George Westinghouse's alternating-current (AC) system, and for several years these men and their companies were fierce competitors. Edison assigned his then-employee Arthur E. Kennelly to develop an electric chair using the rival AC system, hoping to help establish the perils of AC in the public's mind. Edison's public relations team tried to convince newspapers to call their electric chair the "Westinghouse chair", and refer to executions as being "Westinghoused". In a staged and filmed event in 1903 Edison's camera crew further demonstrated AC's danger by electrocuting an elephant.

Like his friend Henry Ford, Edison was virulently anti-Semitic and blamed Jews for all of the world's major problems. Remembering his time as a telegraph operator, his first daughter was nicknamed "Dot" and his eldest son was called "Dash." Another of his sons, Charles Edison, was Governor of New Jersey from 1941-44. In adulthood "Dash", aka Thomas Edison, Jr., sold his name to endorse patent medicines, becoming such an embarrassment to his father that the elder Edison asked his son to stop using the family name, and for a time the younger Edison lived as Thomas Willard.

[1] In Fort Myers, Florida, where Edison maintained a winter home, he attended a Congregational church, apparently to placate his wife. A friend described him as "a truculent agnostic", and Edison's own impatience with religion is evident in such statements as "Religion is all bunk" and "All Bibles are man-made".

Father: Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. (lighthouse keeper, b. 16-Aug-1804, d. 26-Feb-1896)
Mother: Nancy Mathews Elliott Edison (b. 4-Jan-1810, m. 12-Sep-1828, d. 9-Apr-1871)
Sister: Marion Wallace Edison Page (b. 15-Sep-1829, d. 1-Feb-1900)
Brother: William Pitt Edison (street railway operator, b. 5-Nov-1831, d. 1891)
Sister: Harriett Ann Edison Bailey ("Tannie", b. 23-May-1833, d. 3-Mar-1863)
Brother: Carlisle Edison (b. 8-Jan-1836, d. 14-Feb-1842)
Brother: Samuel Ogden Edison III (b. 5-Mar-1840, d. 17-Jul-1843)
Sister: Eliza Edison (b. 19-May-1844, d. 18-Dec-1847)
Mother: Mary Sharlow Edison (stepmother, maid, b. circa 1855, m. Edison's father 1871)
Wife: Mary Stilwell Edison (b. 6-Sep-1855, m. 25-Dec-1871, d. 9-Aug-1884, one daughter, two sons)
Daughter: Marion Estelle Edison Oeser ("Dot", b. 18-Feb-1873, d. 16-Apr-1965)
Son: Thomas Alva Edison, Jr. ("Dash", farmer, b. 10-Jan-1876, d. 25-Aug-1935)
Son: William Leslie Edison (farmer, b. 26-Oct-1878, d. 10-Aug-1937 cancer)
Wife: Mina Miller Edison Hughes (b. 6-Jul-1865, m. 24-Feb-1886, until his death, d. 24-Aug-1947, one daughter, two sons)
Daughter: Madeleine Edison Sloane (b. 31-May-1888, d. 14-Feb-1979)
Son: Charles Edison (42nd Governor of New Jersey, b. 3-Aug-1890, d. 31-Jul-1969)
Son: Theodore Miller Edison (Thomas A. Edison Inc executive, b. 10-Jul-1898, d. 24-Nov-1992)

    Consolidated Edison Founder, Edison Illuminating Company (1880)
    Science Co-Founder (1880)
    General Electric Founder, Edison Electric Light Company (1878)
    Gold & Stock Telegraph Company Superintendent (1869)
    Western Union Telegraph operator (1868-69)
    (various employers) Telegraph operator (1863-68)
    Canadian National Railway (Grand Trunk Railway) Train-boy (1859-63)
    Acoustical Society of America Honorary
    American Society of Mechanical Engineers Honorary
    National Telegraphic Union 1863
    Civitan Club Fort Meyers (1928)
    National Academy of Sciences
    Matteucci Medal 1887
    Rumford Prize 1895
    Congressional Gold Medal 29-May-1928
    National Inventors Hall of Fame
    French Legion of Honor 1881
    Hollywood Walk of Fame Hollywood Blvd. @ N Las Palmas Ave. (motion pictures)
    National Inventors Hall of Fame 1973
    Coma (14-Oct-1931 until his death, four days later)
    Dutch Ancestry Paternal
    Scottish Ancestry Maternal
    Canadian Ancestry
    English Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Diabetes, Dyslexia, Deafness

Appears on postage stamps:
USA, Scott #945 (3, depicting elder Edison in bow tie, issued 11-Feb-1947)

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