“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

—Thomas A. Edison

Thomas Alva Edison was born Feb. 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio, the youngest of seven children. He attended just three months of formal schooling before the teacher pronounced him “addled” and sent him home. But his mother never gave up on him, teaching him at home and giving Edison the drive to work hard and never disappoint her.

A voracious reader, at age 11 Edison decided to read every book in his local library. His parents convinced him to be more selective instead, and he focused his powerful intellect on books on science.

The rail yards near the Edison family home proved to be one of Edison’s most influential training grounds. As a young man, Edison suffered hearing loss, possibly due to scarlet fever, although he later attributed it to being struck by a train conductor in his early teens. As a young teen, he saved a three-year-old boy from being hit by a train, and in repayment, the boy’s grateful father trained Edison to work as a telegraph operator. This skill gave Edison the tools to leave home to seek his fortune at age 15. He traveled extensively working in telegraph stations, and as he traveled, he began to invent.

Edison had an insatiable curiosity about how things worked. This curiosity led him to explore the world, and he soon moved to Boston to work for Western Union for several months. During this time, he met many other inventors and scientists, as Boston was considered the hub of the scientific, educational and cultural universe.

Later, Edison decided to move to New York City because it was the financial hub of the United States. Here, while he was homeless and hungry, Edison fixed a broken stock ticker for a panicked office manager. He was hired on the spot to do more repairs.

In the New York City area, his creatively truly flourished, as he saw opportunity around every corner. In 1877, he patented the first phonograph. Meanwhile, he was working frenetically to develop a practical incandescent bulb—a project that he would not perfect until 1879, after 10,000 attempts.

During this time, Edison settled in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where he established the first industrial laboratory to develop and apply inventions. Among his many other projects, in 1884 Edison introduced the world's first power system that could deliver electricity at reasonable cost throughout a city. Edison also invented the motion picture camera. He produced the first silent film in 1903 and later worked on combining audio with the silent moving pictures.

Before his death in 1931, at age 84, Edison obtained 1,093 patents—a remarkable accomplishment for anyone, but especially for someone who started life as a restless boy whose boundless curiosity all too often led him into trouble. Edison’s success can be attributed to his consistent optimism, which helped his family to believe in him, and then led him to continuously explore new ideas, against the odds, becoming one of our greatest inventors and a pioneer of the modern age.

Optimism. Pass It On!

This billboard about Optimism features Thomas Edison (1847-1931); inventor, scientist, businessman.

Pass It On®

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Your Comments
Josh from Riverside, California, USA MARCH 28, 2017
Thomas A. Edison will be remembered for years to come.

someone from riverside MARCH 28, 2017
10000 trys is a lot.

Thomas from Orlando, Florida, USA NOVEMBER 15, 2016
I am so proud my name is Thomas A ********, just like Edison!!!

Cecilia Fleming from Mesa, AZ AUGUST 15, 2014
9,999 ways that did not work! Incredible determination to pursue his dreams and fill perceived needs.

Someone from Not, telling MAY 23, 2013

Mitchell P. from Atlanta, Georgia FEBRUARY 20, 2013
I'm doing a report on him right now!

Thomas from Hartford, CT FEBRUARY 7, 2011
I made a light bulb with a 9v battery, 2 wires, switch, and 2 springs. It glowed with a bright orange and white light. It worked!

London T from Northridge, CA APRIL 19, 2010
Imagine what life would be like if he stopped at 9,999? Its not just optimism, its perseverance.. The Nay-sayers that probably told him to quit.. Man.. That's incredible!

Casey R. from Boston, MA NOVEMBER 20, 2009
Let there be light! Optimism is so important... like light!

Caleb L. from Brookings OR MAY 19, 2009
I couldn't imagine how hard it would be to stay positive even after failures. Thomas is a good inspiration for many that fail even just once in a while.

Sebastian Andres V. V. from Chile, Santiago MAY 12, 2009
This person was very positive and smart. I think that he gave up in a certain time but he came back. This person was one of king because it takes a lot to get the optimism.

Marina R. from Los Angeles, CA AUGUST 15, 2008
This was the first billboard I saw from the series of billboards. I was driving on the 10 freeway in Downtown LA and I couldn't help but smile. It definitely inspired me to be better at everything I do each and everyday so much that I've re-enrolled into school to finish my bachelor's degree. I love to find these encouraging billboards in the oddest places. Thank you.

Lisa S. from Washington JULY 24, 2008
I was driving through the middle of Los Angeles a few days ago when this billboard caught my eye. What a breath of fresh air! The world could use more inspiration like this.

N. Tesla from Austin, TX APRIL 23, 2008
"He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene" and that, "His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor.

Alexis G from New York, NY APRIL 13, 2008
How often do we give up on something after 2 or 3 tries? Something doesn't come easily or naturally, we give it perhaps a half a dozen goes, and then move on. What burning passion, what dedication and intensity does it take to try something 10,000 times? Our most prolific inventor truly shows us that the path to success lies in trudging through the vallies of failure, without taking that tempting detour

Elias Trevizo from California, USA JANUARY 22, 2008
I think he is a good man; he made millions of people see in the dark. I think he is fantastic.

Louis F. from Norwalk, Connecticut USA JANUARY 22, 2008
Your billboards are wonderful - and inspirational! Thank you!

Steve W. from Fredonia, New York USA DECEMBER 17, 2007
I think this billboard is about persistence, not optimism. However without optimism, I guess you would not have any persistence.

Anonymous NOVEMBER 14, 2007

Marie S. from Fort Drum, NY JULY 13, 2007
His legacy, as the billboard so pointedly reminds us, is greater than light. Hope and optimism. Hard to hold onto at times. But if he can, we can all strive to.

Anonymous MAY 25, 2007
You can do it, Genea!

Genea S. from Atlanta, USA MAY 17, 2007
I am a 34 year old single mother who has always struggled with weight. Since I was a child I've been heavy and the older I get I seem to lose the desire to do anything about it because I've never been successful. Tonight, I am inspired to continue to try thanks to the Thomas Edison "Optimism" billboard on your site. Thanks.

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