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Thomas Alva Edison

Thomas Alva Edison is one of America's most famous inventors. Edison saw huge change take place in his lifetime. He was responsible for making many of those changes occur. His inventions created and contributed to modern night lights, movies, telephones, records and CDs. Edison was truly a genius.

Edison is most famous for his development of the first electric light bulb. When Edison was born, electricity had not been developed. By the time he died, entire cities were lit by electricity. Much of the credit for electricity goes to Edison.

Some of his inventions were improvements on other inventions, like the telephone. Some of his inventions he deliberately tried to invent, like the light bulb and the movie projector. But some inventions he stumbled upon, like the phonograph.

Of all his inventions, Edison was most proud of the phonograph. Edison invented and improved upon things that transformed our world. Some things he invented by himself.

Some things he invented with other people. Just about all his inventions are things we still use in some form today. Throughout his life, Edison tried to invent things that everyone could use.

Edison created the world's first "invention factory". He and his partners invented, built and shipped the product - all in the same complex. This was a new way to do business. Today many businesses have copied Edison's invention factory design.

A business friend once asked Edison about the secret to his success. Edison replied, "Genius is hard work, stick-to-itiveness, and common sense". But his "common sense" was very uncommon. More patents were issued to Edison than have been issued to any other single person in U.S. history: 1,093.

Early Life
Thomas Edison was born February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio. He was the seventh and last child of Samuel Edison, Jr. and Nancy Elliot Edison. His parents had no special mechanical background. His mother was a former schoolteacher; his father was a jack-of-all-trades - from running a grocery store to real-estate. When Thomas was seven years old, his family moved to Port Huron, Michigan. He was a very curious child who asked a lot of questions.

The Education of Thomas Edison
Edison began school in Port Huron, Michigan when he was seven. His teacher, the Reverend G. B. Engle considered Thomas to be a dull student. Thomas especially did not like math. And he asked too many questions. The story goes that the teacher whipped students who asked questions. After three months of school, the teacher called Thomas, "addled," which means confused or mixed up. Thomas stormed home.

The next day, Nancy Edison brought Thomas back to school to talk with Reverend Engle. The teacher told his mother that Thomas couldn't learn. Nancy also became angry at the teacher's strict ways. She took Thomas out of school and decided to home-school him. It appears he briefly attended two more schools. However, his school attendance was not very good. So nearly all his childhood learning took place at home.

Edison Loved to Read
Edison's parents loved to read. They read to him works of good literature and history. They had many books that young Tom eagerly devoured. Before he was 12, he had read works by Dickens and Shakespeare, Edward Gibbon's Fall of the Roman Empire and Decline, and more.

Nancy Edison encouraged her curious son to learn things for himself. His parents were dedicated to teaching their children. They did not force him to learn about things he didn't enjoy. So he learned about things that interested him the most.

When Thomas was nine Nancy Edison gave him an elementary science book. It explained how to do chemistry andexhaust systems experiments at home. Edison did every experiment in the book. Then Nancy gave him more books on science. He soon loved chemistry and spent all his spare money buying chemicals from a local pharmacy. He collected bottles, wires, and other items for experiments.

At age 10, Thomas built his first science laboratory in the basement of the family's home. His father disapproved of all the time Thomas spent in the basement. Sometimes Sam offered a penny to Thomas if he would go back to reading books. But Thomas often used his pennies to buy more chemicals for experiments. He labeled all his bottles "Poison".

It is Okay to Fail?
Edison thought of disasters as learning opportunities. One time his lab stove went out in the dead of winter. Many expensive chemicals froze. Another time unprotected chemicals were damaged by sunlight. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Edison stopped all other projects and thought of ways to solve the problem. He learned to change the makeup of some of the chemicals.

Some historians believe Edison learned his positive attitude from his energetic father. Sam Edison was not afraid to take risks and he never gave up when a business project failed. Sam Edison brushed himself off and started a new business. This positive message of persistence may have been why Edison learned it's okay to fail.

One challenge that Edison failed at was the invention of an undersea telegraph. Edison designed a laboratory model of a transatlantic cable. But the rumble of traffic outdoors shook the equipment so much they couldn't complete the experiments. Edison finally abandoned this project.

But what ruined Edison's underwater telegraph experiments - noise vibrations and sound waves - is what made his telephone experiments work. He learned things from the undersea telegraph experiments that could help Alexander Graham Bell improve the telephone.

Why was Edison a Genius?
• Edison believed in hard work and determination.
• Work habits. Edison sometimes worked twenty hours a day.
• He was very good at bringing people together to make an inventing team.
• He was able to reason with many different people.
• He encouraged creativity in his employees.
• He knew a lot about what his competitors were working on.
• He almost never worked on any invention that wasn't already being worked on by several other people.
• One of his biggest strengths - Perseverance. He never gave up. This idea is captured in his famous statement, "Invention is ninety-nine percent perspiration, and one percent inspiration."
• Failure did not stop him. Edison rarely got discouraged when experiments didn't work out. A failed experiment shifted his thinking in different directions.
• He was able to solve problems and learn from failure.
• Attitude. He saw every failure as a success. The story goes that he failed 10,000 times in his storage battery experiments. But Edison said, "Why, I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Edison was a home-schooled, self-educated person. He learned education was his own responsibility. He learned to be persistent. He learned reading was very important. He learned from watching others. He learned that science is fun. He learned that education is something that lasts your whole life.

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