People often say Edison
was a genius. He answered, "Genius is hard work,
stick-to-it-iveness, and common sense."
Thomas Alva Edison was
born February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio (pronounced MY-lan).
In 1854, when he was seven, the family moved to Michigan,
where Edison spent the rest of his childhood.
"Al," as he was
called as a boy, went to school only a short time. He did so
poorly that his mother, a former teacher, taught her son at
home. Al learned to love reading, a habit he kept for the
rest of his life. He also liked to make experiments in the
Al not only played hard,
but also worked hard. At the age of 12 he sold fruit, snacks
and newspapers on a train as a "news butcher."
(Trains were the newest way to travel, cutting through the
American wilderness.) He even printed his own newspaper, the
Grand Trunk Herald, on a moving train.
At 15, Al roamed the
country as a "tramp telegrapher." Using a kind of
alphabet called Morse Code, he sent and received messages
over the telegraph. Even though he was already losing his
hearing, he could still hear the clicks of the telegraph. In
the next seven years he moved over a dozen times, often
working all night, taking messages for trains and even for
the Union Army during the Civil War. In his spare time, he
took things apart to see how they worked. Finally, he
decided to invent things himself.
After the failure of his
first invention, the electric vote recorder, Edison moved to
New York City. There he improved the way the stock ticker
worked. This was his big break. By 1870 his company was
manufacturing his stock ticker in Newark, New Jersey. He
also improved the telegraph, making it send up to four
messages at once.
During this time he
married his first wife, Mary Stilwell, on Christmas Day,
1871. They had three children -- Marion, Thomas, Jr., and
William. Wanting a quieter spot to do more inventing, Edison
moved from Newark to Menlo Park, New Jersey, in 1876. There
he built his most famous laboratory.
He was not alone in Menlo
Park. Edison hired "muckers" to help him out.
These "muckers" came from all over the world to
make their fortune in America. They often stayed up all
night working with the "chief mucker," Edison
himself. He is sometime called the "Wizard of Menlo
Park" because he created two of his three greatest
was the first machine that could record the sound of
someone's voice and play it back. In 1877, Edison recorded
the first words on a piece of tin foil. He recited the
nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and the
phonograph played the words back to him. This was invented
by a man whose hearing was so poor that he thought of
himself as "deaf"!
Starting in 1878, Edison
and the muckers worked on one of his greatest achievements.
The electric light system was more than just the
incandescent lamp, or "light bulb." Edison also
designed a system of power plants that make the electrical
power and the wiring that brings it to people's homes.
Imagine all the things you "plug in." What would
your life be like without them?
In 1885, one year after
his first wife died, Edison met a 20-year-old woman named
Mina Miller. Her father was an inventor in Edison's home
state of Ohio. Edison taught her Morse Code. Even when
others were around, the couple could "talk" to
each other secretly. One day he tapped a question into her
hand: would she marry him? She tapped back the word
Mina Edison wanted a home
in the country, so Edison bought Glenmont, a 29-room home
with 13-1/2 acres of land in West Orange, New Jersey. They
married on February 24, 1886 and had three children:
Madeleine, Charles and Theodore.
A year later, Edison built
a laboratory in West Orange that was ten times larger than
the one in Menlo Park. In fact, it was one of the largest
laboratories in the world, almost as famous as Edison
himself. Well into the night, laboratory buildings glowed
with electric light while the Wizard and his
"muckers" turned Edison's dreams into inventions.
Once, the "chief mucker" worked for three days
straight, taking only short naps. Edison earned half of his
1,093 patents in West Orange.
But Edison did more than
invent. Here Edison could think of ways to make a better
phonograph, for example, build it with his muckers, have
them test it and make it work, then manufacture it in the
factories that surrounded his laboratory. This improved
phonograph could then be sold throughout the world.
Not only did Edison
improve the phonograph several times, but he also worked on
X-rays, storage batteries, and the first talking doll. At
West Orange he also worked on one of his greatest ideas: motion
pictures, or "movies." The inventions made
here changed the way we live even today. He worked here
until his death on October 18, 1931, at the age of 84.
Edison's relationship to
tattooing is the fact that his "Autographic Stencil
Pen" was the predecessor to the first electric tattoo
machine. To read about the "Edison Pen" please
click here, or
By that time, everyone had
heard of the "Wizard" and looked up to him. The
whole world called him a genius. But he knew that having a
good idea was not enough. It takes hard work to make dreams
into reality. That is why Edison liked to say, "Genius
is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."