—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.