85 Years of Legacy: How Thomas Edison Illuminated the World
Today marks the 85th anniversary of Thomas Edison's death. The American-born inventor crafted some of the most iconic innovations that have since been duplicated and adjusted over the world. Let's take a look at how some of his biggest creations have impacted the 85 years since his death.
In his 84 years on Earth, Thomas Edison acquired 2,332 patents from his inventions, and 1,093 were from the United States. He had 389 for electric light and power, 195 for the phonograph, 150 for the telegraph, 141 for storage batteries and 34 for the telephone.
It wasn't just his technology that left an indelible mark on society.
"He was also able to captivate the public with his vision for the future," said co-founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales. "The electric light wasn't some curiosity for a museum, it was something that was going to transform life for everyone."
Edison's Greatest Hits
Many historians dub this Edison's first great invention. It remained his life-long favorite, as he always came back to it in order for improvement. His first recorded message? "Mary had a little lamb," which completely stunned Edison and his staff when he successfully played it back.
This easily remains Edison's legacy. It's widely understood that Edison did not invent the light bulb. However, he did craft cheaper bulbs that could be mass-produced and long-lasting. He created a vacuum inside the bulb, determined that carbonized bamboo would be the proper filament, and ran a lower voltage through the bulb to sustain it.
Edison didn't start tinkering with motion pictures until the late 1880s. His first device was similar to his phonograph, complete with a spiral arrangement of 1/16 inch photographs spinning on a cylinder. He improved on the film's quality with George Eastman's 35 mm celluloid film and cut the film into continuous strips perforated along the edges.
Electrographic Vote Recorder
Edison was only 22 and still working as a telegrapher when he filed this patent. The electrographic vote recorder was to formalize how US Congress tallied their votes rather than the traditional "yay" or "nay" voice vote. The device connected to a clerk's desk where the names of the legislators are programmed. The government official would then flip a switch either yes or no, and the switch would send a current to the clerk's desk. Wheels kept track of the affirmations and rejections throughout the vote.
Some consider Edison to be the greatest inventor of all time. However, the man came from humble beginnings. He was born in 1847 in Milan, Ohio. He was the last of seven children and one of four kids to survive to adulthood. He left school at age 11 to begin working on the railroad between Detroit and Port Huron in Michigan.
His time working as a telegrapher in the Civil War first caught his attention. He developed hearing problems attributed to scarlet fever, head trauma or mastoiditis. When telegraphs gained audio functions, Edison worked on inventing devices to help him in spite of his deafness. He quit telegraphy at age 22 to pursue inventing things full time.
He set up shop in Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1875, where he would later earn the title "Wizard of Menlo Park." Just two years later, he developed the carbon transmitter which improved the clarity of telephone conversations.
In 1878, Edison shifted his efforts on electric lights to replace the traditional gaslight. Financial backers like J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt family helped Edison to create the Edison Electric Light Company. He developed a bulb with a platinum filament in 1879 and the summer after decided that carbonized bamboo would help extend the life of a bulb. Despite problems with the system, Edison was praised highly throughout Europe in the early 1880s.
Edison would continue working into his 80s, collaborating with men like Henry Ford on battery designs for what would later be known as the Model T. He died on Oct. 18, 1931, at the age of 84.
His rags-to-riches story has become the embodiment of not only American ingenuity, but a universal understanding that hard work and persistence pay off.
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