Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) born in Milan, Ohio is most noted for a practical electric light bulb, sound recording devices such as the phonograph, and motion picture projector (Eastman picture). In all, Edison and his team of scientists developed many technologies and products and over 1000 patents.


Entrepreneurship at an Early Age

At age 12, Edison was selling newspapers on the Grand Trunk Railway. This was not uncommon then nor is it today. But by age 15, he was publishing the Grand Trunk Herald in a freight car which also served as a laboratory for electrical and mechanical experimentation.

Edison saved the life of a rail corporation employees child and was rewarded by being taught about telegraphy. He then developed enhancements to the telegraph such as automatic transmission over a second line without the need for an operator.

He then want on to develop several products such as a stock ticker and vote recorder that were not accepted as practical in use.

Edison earned $40,000 for his work on the telegraph and opened a research laboratory in Menlo, New Jersey where he and a team of scientists developed the carbon telephone transmitter to greatly enhance the work of Alexander Graham Bell.

In 1877 Edison announced the invention of the phonograph recorded on a tinfoil cylinder. In 1879, the incandescent light bulb was introduced. He later opened the first power station in New York City employing the use of dynamos he was developing to make power available to the masses. His use of DC current (direct current) however was replaced by the work of other scientists research including George Westinghouse using AC(alternating current).

Other achievements:

kinetoscope (motion pictures by rapid motion of ndividual photos) battery - alkaline - nickel-iron storage battery phonograph ( allowed sound to be recorded on a disk rather than tin foi)l - elecric pen - mimeograph microtasimeter(- used for measurement of very small changes in temperature)
wireless telegraphic method (used mainly for Rail ways)


"all progress, all success springs from thinking"

Sometimes known as the father of the electronic ge the "Edison Effect" and the vacuum tube was the start of electronics as we know it today

Not until years later would the early achievements be recognized by future scientists.

On the Incandescent Lamp:

" We are striking it big in the electric light, better than my vivid imagination first conceived. Where this thing is going to stop the Lord only knows." - 1879

On the Phonograph:

"This tongueless, toothless instrument, without larynx or pharynx, mimics your tones, speaks with your voice, utters your words and centuries after you have crumbled into dust, may repeat ever idle thought, every fond fancy, every vain word that you choose to whisper against the thin, iron diaphragm"

Moving Pictures and the kinetoscope:

"My plan was to synchronize the camera and the phonograph so as to record sounds when the pictures were made, and reproduce the two in harmony. . ." We had the first of the so-called "talking pictures" in our laboratory thirty years ago" - 1925

Key thoughts for entrepreneurs

Among the key points about Edison was that he worked with many people including many on his staff as well as many other scientists and technologists. The phonograph developed in 1877 was actually constructed by Edison's Chief machinist, John Kruesi.

In fact, only a relative few developments such as "The Edison Effect" (flow of electrons from a heated filament) were attributed to discovery. Edison was more of a technologist who made quantum improvements many of which were not discovered as useful until much later. These improvements are much like the market niches that entrepreneurs expand upon today and do not necessarily invent.

Edison also had many impractical designs, failures, and more or less stumbled upon other opportunities along the way. His own comments regarding inspiration and hard work are a testament to hard work being the greater part of greatness over inspiration.

Edison also made very costly mistakes that never however, stopped his perseverance. For example, he applied for the kinetoscope patent in 1891. But it wasn't granted until 1897. He failed to patent this idea outside the United States and in years to come would prove to be a costly mistake.

Expect mistakes and shortfalls and "plan" for them in your written business plan.

Books on Thomas Edison:

Edison: A Life of Invention by Paul Israel

The Story of Thomas Alva Edison by Margaret Cousins