Thomas Alva Edison


We have all heard of Thomas Alva Edison, the great inventor and businessman, one of most brilliant minds who ever graced our world. Born in February 11, 1847 he led a life at the spearhead of innovation up until he passed away, on October 18, 1931, at age 84. A great number of inventions, patents and devices are attributed to the prolific inventor many of which had a worldwide impact and forever changed the world. For example, the following inventions, electric lights and utilities, sound recording and motion pictures all sprawled brand new, major industries around the Earth.

If a man is judged by their legacy, then history has been more than kind to Edison. During the course of his life, and even decades after his passing, he was awarded numerous times for his contributions to sciences, engineerining and the general well being of the human race. Likewise, several places, institutions and people have been given his namesake to honor his work and preserve his memory.

All in all, none would argue that Thomas Alva Edison was quite the extraordinary individual. However, behind the glamor, behind the glory, there were aspects of Edison that were certainly less than pleasant. Who was the real Thomas Edison? In this article, we will present you a list of many interesting facts about the world’s greatest inventor, and shed light to different parts of his life and character.

Edison’s Early Life

Edison, despite his latter undeniable, extreme success led a rather surprising and unorthodox childhood life.

  1. Reportedly, he did not learn to talk, not until he was nearly four years old.
  2. When he was aged 7, he attended school for only a little until his mother removed him and home-tutored him until the age of 11. This was due to his hyperactivity. In result, while he received little formal education as a child, he developed the capacity to learn skills by himself, and developed an intense thirst for knowledge.
  3. Initially, Thomas was interested in becoming an actor. Inherently shy as he was, however, he soon abandoned the prospect of an acting career.
  4. So hungry was he for knowledge, that he resolved to read every single book of his home library. His parents, wisely, soon taught him to be more selective of his reading.
  5. He did various gigs in his early youth, such as selling newspapers at 13, or working as a telegraph operator. These early experiences influenced many of his latter inventions.
  6. After experiencing a disease and various ear infections in his childhood, his sense of hearing was decreased considerably.

Unbelievable Edison Facts

What is perhaps most interesting, however, is how Thomas chose to deal with some of the aforementioned happenstances. For example:

  • As he grew up, his initial loss of hearing increased considerably. As an adult, he was nearly deaf. However, not only did he cite a train accident as the cause of his condition, he avoided the chance of improving his hearing completely. He, reportedly, was not interested to go through the process of learning again how to express his thinking in a world that was more noisy than he had grown used to.

Another interesting tidbit of his life was his experience with his very first patented invention, a telegraphic vote-recording device for the legislature.

  • The basic premise of his idea was that whenever a legislator wanted to record his vote on a particular bill, they would move a switch on his device and the vote would get recorded. His invention was received extremely badly by the Congress. The chairman of the committee told him that, “If there is any invention that we do not want down here, that is it“. Naturally, Edison’s vote recorder was never put to use. It is quite surprising that the greatest inventor of the world would suffer such a defeat, considering the great success he would come to experience later.

What is most important, however, is how Thomas dealt with that instance. Instead of falling in deep depression and abandoning his aspirations for creation and innovation, he instead resolved to only develop things for which a market already existed. This change of perspective proved to be invaluable to his future success.

Edison’s Relationships

Thomas married two times in his life. His first marriage was with Mary Stilwell, an employee of his. He was constantly irritated by her inability to invent, going as far as writing down in his diary that “My wife, dearly beloved cannot invent a damn!”. After his first wife died, he eventually came to marry Mina Miller, who was much more to his liking in character and disposition. Reportedly, he taught her Morse Code, so that they could secretly communicate whenever others were around.

What is perhaps more interesting, however, is Edison’s relationship with Nikola Tesla, a fellow inventor he worked with. Who was the better inventor is a much heated debate, even to this day. According to Tesla, Edison failed to compensate him what he was promised to have been paid for his work. Critics of Thomas go as far as claiming that he stole Tesla’s work.

The truth of the matter is that Edison assembled a workshop with a group of inventors with whom he worked on a great variety of projects. He would patent their work under his name – which is not too far off from how research works nowadays. Thus, while it may be argued that Thomas failed to honor his agreement with Tesla, outright stealing his work, as Tesla fans often claim, does not seem to be the case.

However, we can draw an interesting conclusion from this. While certainly gifted himself, much of Edison’s success was drawn from the inventions of other inventors. It is safe to assume, then, that a substantial part of his success had to do with his strategic and businessman-like attitude rather his inventive genius. As impressive as his achievements are, a no small part of them was built on the shoulders of others.