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Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison is one of the most famous American inventors. Born in Milan, Ohio, on February 11, 1847, he later moved to Port Huron, Michigan, with his family. His formal schooling was minimal, attending school for only three months when he was seven years old. Nevertheless, he made immense practical contributions to science and technology.

His first major invention occurred when he was 21—a stock ticker for printing stock-exchange quotes in brokers' offices. With the money he earned from this invention, he opened a manufacturing shop and small laboratory in Newark, New Jersey. He left the manufacturing side of his work moved the laboratory to Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1876. His laboratory was modern for the time, and he had skilled researchers join him in his investigations.

Edison devised an automatic telegraph system that greatly improved the speed and range of telegraph transmissions. His device made it possible to simultaneously transmit several messages on one line, which greatly increased the usefulness of existing telegraph lines.

Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company in 1878, which merged with other companies in 1892 to form the General Electric Company.

He is perhaps best known for his invention of the first commercial practical light bulb in 1879. Equally important, however, was his development of the world's first central electric light power station, which he installed on Pearl Street in New York City in 1882. His preference for direct current, however, was eclipsed by the use of alternating current that Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse developed.

Thomas Alva Edison in his laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey.

Thomas Alva Edison in his laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey.

Credits -SCETI, The Walter H. & Lenore Annanberg Rare
Book and manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania


Also during this time period, Edison investigated the use of electric motors for vertical flight. He realized, however, that this was impractical and that the weight of the motor that was needed to lift a craft into the air vertically with the current state of the technology was too great to allow for flight.

He was an inventor rather than a scientist. However, in 1883, he did observe the flow of electrons from a heated filament, later called Edison effect, which had profound implications for modern electronics

Among Edison's other inventions were the phonograph, flexible celluloid film and his invention of the movie projector, which aided the development of the motion picture industry, the alkaline storage battery, a magnetic process to separate iron ore, and the carbon microphone. By the time he died in West Orange, New Jersey, on Oct. 18, 1931, he had patented over 1,000 inventions.