Thomas Alva Edison. American Inventor of Electric Light Bulb, Phonograph, Cameras. Brief biography of inventor and scientist Thomas Alva Edison, with more than 1,000 patents, constructed a film studio, discovered the Edison Effect.
Thomas Alva Edison, the most productive American inventor of his time, received over 1,000 patents for practical applications of scientific principles. Among them are the electric light bulb and phonograph. He introduced one of the first cinematographs and improved Alexander Bell’s telephone by means of the carbon transmitter that increases the volume of the signal. He also discovered the Edison Effect.
Early Life of Thomas Alva Edison
Thomas Alva Edison was born in Milan, Ohio on February 11, 1847. He spent most of his childhood in Port Huron, Michigan. He was largely self-taught, thanks to his mother’s patience with a smelly laboratory that he first set up when he was 10-years-old. At the age of 12, he became a railroad newsboy, printing his own newspaper of the Grand Trunk Railway. He moved his laboratory to a disused railway carriage. .
His life changed forever when he saved a station official’s three-year old child from an oncoming train. The official, J.U. MacKenzie, taught Edison how to operate the telegraph. His interest in telegraphy led to a number of important developments.
Edison the Young Inventor
He traveled around the U.S. and Canada (1862-1868) working as operator, at the same time he developed new instruments. Convinced that he had a life as an inventor, he set up his own small business and patented in first invention in 1869, an electronic vote recorder. It worked but no one was interested to buy. He married Mary Stilwell in 1871, and had one daughter and two sons.
Edison moved to New York. This time he had the good fortune to fix a stock-counting machine at Samuel Law’s Gold Indicator Company Management. The company was so impressed that they hired him to mend all their machines. He had enough money to finance his future research.
Later Inventions of Edison
In 1877, Edison invented the tin foil cylinder phonograph in 1877 and the electric bulb in 1878 and discovers the Edison Effect the following year. In 1882, he opened a commercial electric station. While his inventions met with success, his wife Mary died on August 9, 1884. He remarried two years later, to Mina Miller, and they also had a daughter and two sons.
His work continued with more developments, including several major advancements:
- Developed a wax cylinder phonograph, 1887
- Constructed a film studio, 1893
- Developed the kinetophone that synchronizes images with sound, 1894-1895
- Developed process for mass-producing duplicate wax cylinders, 1901
The Edison Effect
In the experiment with his light bulbs, one of his technicians found that electrons flowed from a heated element in a vacuum, such as the incandescent lamp, to a cooler metal plate. That time, Edison took no special attention to it, however, and he patented it anyway.
This is in fact what is known as the Edison Effect, where in electrons can flow only from the hot element to the cool plate, not vice-versa. It took the English physicist John Ambrose Fleming to make use of this effect as it solved Fleming’s problem of turning an alternating current into a direct current, which he called a valve.
In modern times, the valve has been replaced by diodes used in standard television screens and X-ray machines. The principle remains.
Insights into the Genius of Thomas A. Edison
Through his inventions, Edison radically changed the physical world, from the electric light bulb and phonographs, to the moving images in cameras, providing humankind a much better way of life, including the Christmas lights that so brighten up the season’s Christmas trees and other strings of lights.
He died aged 84, in West Orange, New Jersey. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1928. Edison’s acquaintances included Eadweard Muybridge, George Westinghouse, and Edwin S. Porter.
Edison is famous for his quote: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” which equates to saying that all he did came from hard work, not by accident.