Thomas Alva Edison was a great inventor. He was born in Milan, Ohio, on February 11, 1847. He was the youngest of seven children. His middle name was Alva. His family called him ‘Al’. Edison’s family moved to Port Huron, Michigan, when he was a child. He spent most of his childhood there.
Young Edison was a sickly child. He had scarlet fever when he was a child. The disease left him almost deaf. Edison started going to school when he was 8 years old. He only attended school for 3 months. He was a restless pupil. He disliked rote learning. He did not do well in school. His teacher called him ‘addled’ which means slow or dim.
Edison’s mother was a school teacher. She knew that Thomas, her son, could learn. So, she took him out of school and taught him at home. From his mother, Edison learnt reading, writing and arithmetic. He started reading books from the library and teaching himself.
Edison was a curious boy. Once, he asked his mother why hens sit on eggs. She told that hens do so to hatch their eggs. When Thomas went missing one day, his mother found him sitting on a clutch of a hen’s eggs. He used to think that birds eat insects so that they may fly. So, he gathered insects and blended them into juice. He then let their house maid drink the juice.
Edison played by taking things apart to see how they worked. He decided to become an inventor. Edison’s mother gave him permission to do experiments. He set up his first chemistry lab in his parents’ basement at the age of 10. This made his father feel very nervous.
Edison was an enterprising teenager. He sold vegetables and candies on trains on the Grand Trunk Railroad. One day, he saved a child from a runaway train. The child’s father repaid Edison by training him as a telegraph operator.
As a telegraph operator, Edison became interested in communications. He also set up a printing press and a chemistry lab in a baggage train car. He started publishing and selling newspapers to train passengers. Unfortunately, Edison started a fire on a train car doing chemistry experiments. He had to stop his lab work in the train.
At the age of 15, Edison began operating telegraph. He started sending and receiving messages via Morse code. Morse code was an electronic alphabet sent using different clicks for each letter. Morse code is used across the world by the military, shipping and the rail system. Edison worked for the Union Army as a telegrapher. His telegraph could send four messages at once.
Edison was 22 years old when he filed his first patent for the Electrographic Vote Recorder. It helped the people record their votes in a quicker way than the voice vote system that they used.
At the same time, Edison also invented an improved stock ticker for the stock exchange. A stock ticker is a machine used by businessmen. When it made a ‘tick’, it meant a change in the price of an item. Edison was paid $40,000 for this invention. Edison used the money to take care of his ailing mother. He became a full-time inventor.
Edison set up a large invention laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. There, people began to work for him to develop, build and test his inventions. Edison was called ‘The Wizard of the Menlo Park’.
Thomas Alva Edison would sleep for 4 hours only in a day. He would work for 72 hours, especially when an experiment was about to be completed. He had over a 1000 patents in his name. Three of his most famous inventions are the phonograph, the light bulb and the motion picture.
The phonograph was the first major invention by Edison. It made him famous. It was the first machine that was able to record and playback sound. Edison said the words, “Mary had a little lamb.” It was the first recorded voice on the phonograph.
Edison made the first practical electric light bulb that could be manufactured and used in homes. As an inventor, Edison made a 1,000 unsuccessful attempts while inventing the light bulb. But he did not give up. He also invented safety fuses and on/off switches for light sockets.
Edison did a lot of work in creating the motion picture camera. His movie studio called, ‘Kinetographic Theatre’ was nicknamed ‘The Black Maria’. He said, “None of my inventions came by accident. I make trial after trial until it comes. A genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”
Thomas Alva Edison won countless awards and became very famous. He started many companies including General Electric, which is one of the biggest corporations in the world today. He died of diabetes on October 18, 1931.