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Thomas Edison


Thomas Alva Edison - born February 11, 1847, Milan, Ohio, U.S. d. Oct. 18, 1931, West Orange, N.J. American inventor who, singly or jointly, held a world record 1,093 patents. In addition, he created the world's first industrial research laboratory.

Edison was the quintessential American inventor in the era of Yankee ingenuity.

He began his career in 1863, in the adolescence of the telegraph industry, when virtually the only source of electricity was primitive batteries putting out a low-voltage current.

Before he died, in 1931, he had played a critical role in introducing the modern age of electricity. From his laboratories and workshops emanated the phonograph, the carbon-button transmitter for the telephone speaker and microphone, the incandescent lamp, a revolutionary generator of unprecedented efficiency, the first commercial electric light and power system, an experimental electric railroad, and key elements of motion-picture apparatus, as well as a host of other inventions.

Edison was the seventh and last child--the fourth surviving--of Samuel Edison, Jr., and Nancy Elliot Edison. At an early age he developed hearing problems, which have been variously attributed but were most likely due to a familial tendency to mastoiditis. Whatever the cause, Edison's deafness strongly influenced his behaviour and career, providing the motivation for many of his inventions.

Early years

In 1854 Samuel Edison became the lighthouse keeper and carpenter on the Fort Gratiot military post near Port Huron, Mich., where the family lived in a substantial home. Alva, as the inventor was known until his second marriage, entered school there and attended sporadically for five years. He was imaginative and inquisitive, but because much instruction was by rote and he had difficulty hearing, he was bored and was labeled a misfit.

To compensate, he became an avid and omnivorous reader. Edison's lack of formal schooling was not unusual. At the time of the Civil War the average American had attended school a total of 434 days--little more than two years' schooling by today's standards.

In 1859 Edison quit school and began working as a trainboy on the railroad between Detroit and Port Huron. Four years earlier, the Michigan Central had initiated the commercial application of the telegraph by using it to control the movement of its tr...


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...s for particular technologies. His issued patents are presented here in three lists—by execution date, patent date, and subject. The execution and patent date lists are each presented in six parts to make the files less cumbersome.

He execution date of a patent application is the date on which the inventor signs the application, and hence is the date closest to the actual inventive activity. However, in his early years Edison did not always rush to his patent lawyer with an invention, especially if there was little competition for the invention or he was feeling broke and unable to pay the various fees involved in an application. In a few cases Edison removed some of the claims from an original application and filed a new application to cover those claims. The execution date of such a patent can be considerably later than that of the original application even though the patent covers designs from the earlier date.

The subject lists are necessarily somewhat arbitrary. They are arranged by execution date. A few patents appear in two lists—for example, Patent 142,999 is for a battery Edison developed for telegraphy, and it is under "Batteries" and "Telegraphy and Telephony."


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