By Sam Pak
The U.S. is proud to be the birthplace and home of many of the world’s most brilliant and innovative minds in history. While many connect today’s entry to his breakthrough with the incandescent lightbulb, we’re here to commemorate him for all of his contributions, just in time for his birthday! That’s right. We’re celebrating the birthday of Thomas Edison, a progressive American inventor, and a sharp-witted business tycoon.
So When is Thomas Edison’s Birthday?
Thomas Alva Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, on February 11, 1847, to Nancy and Samuel Edison, being the last child among six other siblings. Although his family wasn’t technically impoverished, they could not afford much in the way of proper education for Thomas. This amounted to his early education being minimal, attending school for only a few years, off and on. This didn’t prevent him from devouring books to satisfy his love of reading.
Edison showed a great interest in machines and chemistry, beginning to dabble in experiments at an early age. One such experiment included his mobile printing press which he developed in 1859, at the age of twelve, on a train within the Grand Trunk Railroad network. When an accidental fire broke out aboard the train, destroying his makeshift laboratory, it drove Edison out. He had to abandon one of his first entrepreneurial ventures – selling newspapers and candy.
In the same year, Edison lost almost all of his hearing, which some attribute to the train conductor’s punishment of Edison for supposedly causing the train fire. The other train-related incident that some believe caused his deafness was a scenario where Thomas was grabbed by his ears and lifted into a moving train, ultimately damaging his hearing.
It is believed that Edison’s lack of hearing ability caused him to be more reclusive in his social interactions and personality. Now that he could hear less, he was not as bothered by others and made less effort for interpersonal relationships on account of how difficult it was for him to interact. It’s also a condition that some believe contributed to his shrewdness as a leader, making him come across as cold or indignant.
His Inventions Beyond the Light Bulb
Thomas Edison is a recognized household name for his prominence during the Industrial Revolution and the invention of an iconic, groundbreaking tool: the incandescent light bulb. While the invention of the light bulb is momentous and notably Edison’s greatest research accomplishment, it is not the only influential design he is credited for.
His first patented invention, the electrographic voting machine, appeared in 1869, allowing members of congress to easily record vast quantities of voter data connected to their names and decisions. It was ultimately refused by congress, claiming it was not a desired invention. Their gripe with the machine was that it seemed to quicken the voting process far too much. This would prevent the congressmen from voicing their vote aloud, offering opportunities for the opposition to contest their perspectives in the hopes of swaying their stances.
Before the light bulb, Edison was responsible for the classic phonograph, a device to record the human voice and play it back again. This was a huge breakthrough in the technological journey to give people the ability to communicate verbally from a distance. The first words ever audibly recorded with Edison’s phonograph were his speaking “Mary had a little lamb,” which sparked delight in him and his staff when they later listened to the recording.
In 1891, Edison led in the creation of the Kinetoscope, a single-viewer device that allowed the watcher to see illuminated motion pictures. Two years later, in 1893, Edison opened the doors to his own movie studio, “The Black Maria,” which allowed guests to view motion pictures filmed by Edison and his workers en masse at different stations.
After spearheading the electrical industry with the invention of the lightbulb in 1892, Edison made a shift over to optimizing metallurgy tools. He wanted to focus his research on refining iron ore separation to revolutionize the iron and steel industries. While there’s no concrete device attributed to Edison for his progress with ore refinement, his efforts did give way to the later invention of cement mixers, which would go on to transform the industry as a whole.
A Pioneer of Industry to Add to Your History Studies
Edison lived a full life of eighty-four years when the world experienced his passing on October 18, 1931. His numerous inventions and innovations helped pave the way for much of the modern technology we use today. His contributions to the technology world sparked many others to capitalize on his genius and go on to create more. After all, it was Edison who saw a future in electric-powered cars and encouraged his best friend, Henry Ford, creator of the Model T, to keep pursuing the use of electricity in motor vehicles.
You can use Thomas Edison’s birthday as the perfect opportunity for your students to explore more of his life or even related topics, like the history of the era and scientific breakthroughs. You can find more about Thomas Edison, his works, and his background by checking out some of our unit studies and timeline figure sets that contain him, such as in Napoleon to Now, America’s History, and our Time Travelers study, The Industrial Revolution through the Great Depression.