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History of Electricity

Thomas Edison

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Thomas Edison - Photo

Thomas Edison was born on February 11, 1847 in Milan, Ohio.

The family history of Thomas Alva Edison goes way back. The first American Edisons appear to have come from Holland about 1730 and settled on the Passaic River in New Jersey.

Edison's grandfather, John Edison was a Loyalist during the American Revolution, who fled to Nova Scotia, Canada and later moved to Ontario. Edison's father, Samuel Edison, thought he saw a moral in his father's exile. Samuel wanted to make no such error. So, when the War of 1837 broke out, thirty-three year old Samuel Edison, sided with the anti-British insurgents. However, this was losing side as well and Samuel Edison was obliged to flee to the United States, just as his father had fled to Canada. He finally settled at Milan, Ohio, and there, in 1847, in a little brick house, Thomas Alva Edison was born.

Early Life of Thomas Edison

When Thomas Edison was seven his family moved to Port Huron, Michigan. The fact that he attended school only three months was not due to poverty. His mother home-schooled Thomas after his schoolmaster reported that he was "addled-brain".

Thomas Edison had a laboratory in his cellar and was an avid experimenter. He needed money for chemicals and that led to his first job and business ventures.

"By a great amount of persistence," Thomas Edison wrote, "I got permission to go on the local train as newsboy. The local train from Port Huron to Detroit, a distance of sixty-three miles, left at 7 A.M. and arrived again at 9.30 P.M. After being on the train for several months I started two stores in Port Huron, one for periodicals, and the other for vegetables, butter, and berries in the season. They were attended by two boys who shared in the profits."

Thomas Edison bought produce from the farmers' wives along the line which he sold at a profit. He had several newsboys working for him on other trains; he spent hours in the Public Library in Detroit; he fitted up a laboratory in an unused compartment of one of the coaches, and then bought a small printing press which he installed in the car and began to issue a newspaper which he printed on the train. All before he was fifteen years old.

Thomas Edison's career as a traveling newsboy came to a sudden end. He was at work in his moving laboratory when a lurch of the train jarred a stick of burning phosphorus to the floor and set the car on fire. The irate conductor ejected him at the next station, giving him a violent box on the ear, which permanently injured his hearing, and dumped his chemicals and printing apparatus on the platform.

Thomas Edison and Telegraphy

After losing his job, Thomas Edison soon began to dabble in the mechanics of telegraphy. An interest he wrote began, "from visiting telegraph offices with a chum who had tastes similar to mine."

Edison and his friend strung a line between their houses and learned the rudiments of writing messages by telegraph wire. Then a station master on the railroad, whose child Edison had saved from danger, took Edison under his wing and taught him telegraphy.

At sixteen Edison began a period of five years of being a travelling telegrapher. Toledo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Memphis, Louisville, Detroit, were some of the cities in which he worked, studied, experimented, and played practical jokes on his associates. He was eager to learn something of the principles of electricity but found few from whom he could learn.

Edison arrived in Boston in 1868, practically penniless, and applied for a position as night operator. "The manager asked me when I was ready to go to work. 'Now,' I replied." In Boston he found men who knew something of electricity, and, as he worked at night and cut short his sleeping hours, he found time for study. He bought and studied Faraday's works. Presently came the first of his multitudinous inventions, an automatic vote recorder, for which he received a patent in 1868. This necessitated a trip to Washington, which he made on borrowed money, but he was unable to arouse any interest in the device. "After the vote recorder," he says, "I invented a stock ticker, and started a ticker service in Boston; had thirty or forty subscribers and operated from a room over the Gold Exchange." This machine Edison attempted to sell in New York, but he returned to Boston without having succeeded. He then invented a duplex telegraph by which two messages might be sent simultaneously, but at a test the machine failed because of the stupidity of the assistant.

Penniless and in debt, Thomas Edison arrived again in New York in 1869. But now fortune favored him. The Gold Indicator Company was a concern furnishing to its subscribers by telegraph the Stock Exchange prices of gold. The company's instrument was out of order. By a lucky chance Edison was on the spot to repair it, which he did successfully, and this led to his appointment as superintendent at a salary of three hundred dollars a month. When a change in the ownership of the company threw him out of the position he formed, with Franklin L. Pope, the partnership of Pope, Edison, and Company, the first firm of electrical engineers in the United States.

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