Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio and grew up in Port Huron, Michigan. Edison holds the record for the greatest number of patents granted to a single person (1039). Partially deaf since adolescence, Edison became a telegraph operator in the 1860s, and a famously fast one. Some of his earliest inventions related to electrical telegraphy, including a stock ticker.
The invention which first gained Edison wide fame was the phonograph in 1877. While others at the time (notably Charles Cros) were contemplating the notion that sound waves might be recorded and reproduced, Edison was the first to produce a device to actually do so, and this was so astoundingly unexpected by the public at large as to appear almost magical. Edison became known as The Wizard of Menlo Park[?] (after the New Jersey town where he resided).
Many of his inventions were not unique, but Edison showed unique skills in winning the patents and beating his opponents by better marketing skills and influence. While Edison did not invent the electric lightbulb, it was Edison's relentless experimentation that made the lightbulb a practical, commercial proposition. Where earlier inventors had produced electric lighting in laboratory conditions, Edison created a complete, integrated system to generate electricity, distributed it to homes and businesses, and mass produced long-lasting bulbs for sale to the public, using the designs and patents of earlier inventors including Joseph Swan, Henry Woodward, James Bowman Lindsay and William Sawyer[?].
On December 31, 1879, Edison demonstrated incandescent lighting to the public for the first time with some fanfare in Menlo Park, New Jersey. A month later on January 27, 1880 he filed a patent in the United States for the electric incandescent lamp. On October 8, 1883 the U.S. patent office ruled that Edison's patent was based on the work of William Sawyer and were invalid. Litigation continued until on October 6, 1889, a judge ruled that Edison's electric light improvement claim for "a filament of carbon of high resistance" was valid. Research exposed in "A Streak of Luck" by Robert Conot (1979), shows that Edison and his attorneys hid significant information from the judge, they cut out the October 7-21, 1879 section of a notebook. Edison failed to patent the light bulb in the United Kingdom, after losing a court battle with Swan, they formed a joint company (Ediswan) to market the invention. On January 19, 1883 the first electric lighting system employing overhead wires bagan service in Roselle, New Jersey.
A popular myth has it that he invented the electric chair as a means of impressing the public that alternating current was more dangerous than direct current. The truth is that while he did advocate executions via AC electrocution, the chair was invented by an employee of his, Harold P. Brown[?]. (http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa102497.htm) He did however preside personally over several executions of small animals for the benefit of the press to prove his point. Ironically Edison was against capital punishment, but his desire to disparage DC led to the invention of one of the most recognizable killing devices.
Tesla, possibly Edison's most famous employee and great scientist in his own right, had to say about Edison's method of problem-solving: "If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search. I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor."
Initially, it was believed that Thomas Edison invented the motion picture camera, but it has since been proven that William Kennedy Laurie Dickson actually invented it at the Edison laboratories. However, his influence on the history of film stretches far beyond that of instigator. He became a powerhouse of film production and must be given credit for establishing the standard of using 35mm celluloid film with 4 perforations on the edge of each frame that allowed film to emerge as a mass medium and not just a vaudeville novelty. He built what has been called the first movie studio, the Black Maria[?] in New Jersey. Here he made the first copyrighted film, Fred Ott's Sneeze.
In 1891, Thomas Edison built a Kinetoscope, or peep-hole viewer. This device was installed in penny arcades where people could watch short, simple films. This was important to Thomas Edison especially because he had been searching for a way to entertain customers that were listening to music on his phonograph. Now, people could go to a penny arcade, put in a coin, put on the headphones and watch a film through the peep-hole. Later that same year, on December 29th, Edison patented the radio.
In West Orange, New Jersey on February 1, 1893 Edison finished construction of "Black Maria", the first motion picture studio. However, A United States court of appeals ruled on March 10, 1902 that Edison did not invent the movie camera and thus could not excise monopoly power over its use (see Edison v. American Mutoscope[?]).
The greatest invention of Thomas Edison was the Menlo Park research lab, which was built in New Jersey. It was the first institution set up with the specific purpose of producing constant technological innovation and improvement. Most of the inventions there carried Edison as the inventor, though he mostly oversaw the operation.
He was married twice, the first time in 1871 to Mary Stilwell (1855-1884), with whom he had three children - Marion Estelle, Thomas Jr., and William Leslie - before she died at age 29, probably of typhoid fever. His second marriage was to Mina Miller[?] (1865-1946), also with three children, Madeleine[?], Charles (who took over the company), and Theodore Miller[?].
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