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Thomas Alva Edison
The Failed Inventions
Thomas Alva Edison sits between two phonograph cabinets
Thomas Alva Edison sits between two phonograph cabinets, one of which is made of concrete circa 1912
Thomas Alva Edison
History - Inventions
Cylinder Phonograph
Disc Phonograph
Electricity & the Lightbulb
Film Projectors
Motion Pictures
• Failures
All 1,093 Patents (Slow DL)
Thomas Alva Edison
History - Biographies
Genius of Menlo Park
Edison Biography
The Muckers
Thomas Alva Edison - Main Page
Thomas Alva Edison held 1,093 patents for different inventions. Many of them, like the lightbulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera, were brilliant creations that have a huge influence on our everyday life. However, not everything he created was a success; he also had a few failures.

One concept that never took off was Edison's interest in using cement to build things. He formed the Edison Portland Cement Co. in 1899, and made everything from cabinets (for phonographs) to pianos and houses. Unfortunately, at the time, concrete was too expensive and the idea was never accepted. Cement wasn't a total failure, though. His company was hired to build Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

W.K.L. DicksonThomas Alva Edison assistant W.K.L. Dickson's attempt at a sound film circa 1895.

From the beginning of the creation of motion pictures, many people tried to combine film and sound to make "talking" motion pictures. Here you can see to the left an example of an early film attempting to combine sound with pictures made by Edison's assistant, W.K.L. Dickson. By 1895, Edison had created the Kinetophone--a Kinetoscope (peep-hole motion picture viewer) with a phonograph that played inside the cabinet. Sound could be heard through two ear tubes while the viewer watched the images. This creation never really took off, and by 1915 Edison abandoned the idea of sound motion pictures.

Thomas Alva Edison sitting at the door of the ore-milling plant in New JerseyThomas Alva Edison sitting at the door of the ore-milling plant in New Jersey circa 1895

The greatest failure of Thomas Edison's career was his inability to create a practical way to mine iron ore. He worked on mining methods through the late 1880s and early 1890s to supply the Pennsylvania steel mills' demand for iron ore. In order to finance this work, he sold all his stock in General Electric, but was never able to create a separator that could extract iron from unusable, low-grade ores. Eventually, Edison gave up on the idea, but by then he had lost all the money he'd invested.

~Mary Bellis

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