Over the history of humankind there have been many prominent figures that stood out and contributed to their people tremendously. Inventors are a subset of these contributors because their careers are tailored to make products for consumers to use. The best inventors are the ones who make products that can be used by the public on a day to day basis. For the United States, few inventors surpass the contributions made by Thomas Edison and his ability to create products that will be used in almost every aspect of life for an American citizen. Thomas Edison was a very profound and revolutionary inventor, who contributed incredibly to the American people through his many inventions and profound work at Menlo Park.
Even at an early age Thomas Edison started showing signs of true intelligence and creativity. He was born in Milan, Ohio, and was the youngest of 7 children. What is interesting is that Thomas Edison did not learn in a conventional manner, he was actually homeschooled by his mother. Still, by age 10 he was conducting physics and chemistry experiments in his basement, and at age 12 he was starting to sell newspapers, snacks, and tobacco at a railroad line. Not only did he sell other newspapers, he even printed out his own copies and then sold them to subscribers for 8 cents a month.
He also would spend many of his afternoons at the library reading every book available to him, so much so that later in his life when looking back upon it he would recount, “I didn’t read a few books. I read the library”. One of Edison’s first loves was telegraphy. While working on the railroads (selling newspapers) he ended up saving a boy from being run over by a train. As a token of appreciation, the father offered to teach Edison about telegraphy. Edison learned it so well that in only a few years he was able to travel the country being known as “one of the best and fasted telegraphers in the country”.
Over the next decades of his life, Thomas Edison continuously provided new and better inventions for the American people, and established himself as an American icon that is even famously recognized one hundred years later. At such an early age, Thomas Edison was able to start expressing the true genius that he was destined to become and decided to use his intelligence to contribute to the American people through his many inventions.
Thomas Edison quickly rose to fame through his early inventions. His first ever patented invention did not go very well though. He created a device that would electronically record the votes from a legislative assembly. Unfortunately, politicians did not want to speed up the voting process, and because of this Edison vowed to only create inventions that would be a necessity to the consumer.
Even though his first invention was a failure, it was something to show Edison that he was able to take these ideas in his head and get them created. His first commercially successful invention was a device called the Universal Stock Printer. This device was successfully able to print the information of stocks. With his knowledge of electronics and physics, he and two others created the Pope, Edison, and Company, which was “a firm electrical engineers and constructors of various types of electric devices and apparatus”.
Eventually, Edison sold his company and this successful invention for a total of 40,000 dollars. He used this money to create his very first “invention factory” in Newark New Jersey. These facilities consisted of about 50 engineers that helped manufacture and create new inventions; mainly improvements to telegraphy equipment and stock tickers. Over the course of 6 years, his Newark laboratory was granted over 200 patents and is regarded as the first formal non-academic research laboratories in the United States. Eventually Edison discontinued his work at the Newark factories and moved to Menlo Park, New Jersey to continue his work.
Edison claimed that he moved from Newark because lawsuit given by the padlock manufacturer who owned the building to his laboratories. According to Edison, one of the laws of Newark “made a monthly renter liable for a year” and it “seemed so unjust that I determined to get out of place that permitted such injustice”. With his move to Menlo Park, it began an era in which Edison would create his most popular inventions, but also “create a new model for invention that became the cornerstone of modern industrial research”.
Thomas Edison was named “The Wizard of Menlo Park” for good reason. It is the cornerstone of his most popular and accomplished inventions that were made for the American people. In one four-year period, Menlo Park was obtaining on average, one patent every five days. His most original invention to come out of Menlo Park was the phonograph. This was a device that was able to transcribe the words being said over a telephone wire. It accomplished this by making indentations on a wax paper with a carbon transmitter.
The wax paper was then run under a needle, which would produce sounds based on the indentations. He then created the tinfoil phonograph, which was a cylinder wrapped in tinfoil instead. When the public Unfortunately, Edison saw no commercial value for it, so he did not focus on it for another decade. This decision was described as, “one of [Edison’s] greatest blunders, one that in the end was to cost him early”. Edison contributed the most when it came to electricity, and by far his most successful and popular invention was his improvements to a safer, more efficient incandescent lightbulb. This lightbulb was to replace the far more expensive and inefficient gas lighting.
What made Edison’s lightbulb so cheap and efficient, was the fact that vacuum seals were much more powerful in the 1870s, and his material for a filament was much longer lasting. His charred cotton thread was able to burn for forty hours when he first demonstrated it to the crowds that gathered outside Menlo Park. Some of the gathers that came to Menlo Park described it as, “the highest form of illumination known” and one reporter even commented, “There is no flicker…there is nothing between it and darkness. It consumes no air and, of course, does not vitiate any. It has no odor or color”.
In September of 1882 Edison finally opened the “world’s first permanent, commercial center power system” which was in Manhattan. It was through his works at Menlo Park that Thomas Edison really captured the interest of the American people. Many people around the world have Edison and his works from Menlo Park to thank for some of the technology and ideas we have today.
Over the many decades of his life, Thomas Edison poured his life and energy into creating new inventions; not only as spectacles to the masses, but also to benefit the consumers and contribute to a better life for them. It is astonishing that even back in 1926, “it is estimated that a sum of $15,000,000,000 represents the present investment of [the United States] in industries either based on the inventions of Edison or mutually stimulated by them”. For that kind of number to be stated almost one hundred years ago, it is incredible to even imagine how massive it would be today.
Also, it is not only the common people that recognize how massively important Thomas Edison was to the contributions made to the world. At the Radio World’s Fair, Harvey Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, and Henry Ford both lauded over Thomas Edison’s accomplishments to society. Firestone described Edison as “the man who has done more through his inventions for humanity than any other human being”, and Henry Ford proclaimed, “He has been an inspiration to two generations of engineers, and he is recognized as the founder and father of the present industrial age.
All that we have done has been made possible by his inventions…nothing anyone can say could sum up his achievements or enhance his fame”. When it comes to contributions to the American people, there are little who truly surpass Edison with his many inventions and incredible works that came from Menlo Park and other “invention factories”. Not only did he show us devices that were unheard of before, he also made them, and other modified devices, much more affordable and practical for the consumer.