The first great invention developed
by Edison in Menlo Park was the tin foil phonograph. While working to improve
the efficiency of a telegraph transmitter,
he noted that the tape of the machine gave off a noise resembling spoken
words when played at a high speed. This caused him to wonder if he could
record a telephone message. He began experimenting with the diaphragm of
a telephone receiver by attaching a needle to it. He reasoned that the
needle could prick paper tape to record a message. His experiments led
him to try a stylus on a tinfoil cylinder, which, to his great surprise,
played back the short message he recorded, "Mary had a little lamb."
The word phonograph was the trade
name for Edison's device, which played cylinders rather than discs. The
machine had two needles: one for recording and one for playback. When you
spoke into the mouthpiece, the sound vibrations of your voice would be
indented onto the cylinder by the recording needle. This cylinder phonograph
was the first machine that could record and reproduce sound created a sensation
and brought Edison international fame.
August 12, 1877, is the date popularly
given for Edison's completion of the model for the first phonograph. It
is more likely, however, that work on the model was not finished until
November or December of that year, since he did not file for the patent
until December 24, 1877. He toured the country with the tin foil phonograph,
and was invited to the White House to demonstrate it to President Rutherford
B. Hayes in April 1878.
In 1878, Thomas Edison established
the Edison Speaking Phonograph Company to sell the new machine. He suggested
other uses for the phonograph, such as: letter writing and dictation, phonographic
books for blind people, a family record (recording family members in their
own voices), music boxes and toys, clocks that announce the time, and a
connection with the telephone so communications could be recorded.
History of the Cylinder Phonograph
The phonograph was developed from
work done on the telegraph and on the telephone.
History of the Disc Phonograph
The Edison Company had been fully
devoted to the cylinder phonograph, however, concerned with the rising
popularity of discs, Edison associates began developing their own disc
player and discs in secret.
History of the Kinetophone
In 1913, the Kinetophone was introduced,
which attempted to synchronize motion pictures with the sound of a phonograph
Electricity and Lightbulb - History
Thomas Edison's greatest challenge
was the development of a practical incandescent, electric light. Contrary
to popular belief, he didn't "invent" the lightbulb, but rather he improved
upon a 50-year-old idea. In 1879, using lower current electricity, a small
carbonized filament, and an improved vacuum inside the globe, he was able
to produce a reliable, long-lasting source of light. The idea of electric
lighting was not new, and a number of people had worked on, and even developed
forms of electric lighting. But up to that time, nothing had been developed
that was remotely practical for home use. Edison's eventual achievement
was inventing not just an incandescent electric light, but also an electric
lighting system that contained all the elements necessary to make the incandescent
light practical, safe, and economical. After one and a half years of work,
success was achieved when an incandescent lamp with a filament of carbonized
sewing thread burned for thirteen and a half hours.
There are a couple of other interesting
things about the invention of the light bulb: While most of the attention
was on the discovery of the right kind of filament that would work, Edison
actually had to invent a total of seven system elements that were critical
to the practical application of electric lights as an alternative to the
gas lights that were prevalent in that day.
These were the development of:
Before Edison could make his millions,
every one of these elements had to be invented and then, through careful
trial and error, developed into practical, reproducible components. The
first public demonstration of the Thomas Edison's incandescent lighting
system was in December 1879, when the Menlo Park laboratory complex was
electrically lighted. Edison spent the next several years creating the
the parallel circuit,
a durable light bulb,
an improved dynamo,
the underground conductor network,
the devices for maintaining constant
safety fuses and insulating materials,
light sockets with on-off switches.
The modern electric utility industry
began in the 1880s. It evolved from gas and electric carbon-arc commercial
and street lighting systems. On September 4, 1882, the first commercial
power station, located on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, went into operation
providing light and electricity power to customers in a one square mile
area; the electric age had begun. Thomas Edison's Pearl Street electricity
generating station introduced four key elements of a modern electric utility
system. It featured reliable central generation, efficient distribution,
a successful end use (in 1882, the light bulb), and a competitive price.
A model of efficiency for its time, Pearl Street used one-third the fuel
of its predecessors, burning about 10 pounds of coal per kilowatt hour,
a "heat rate" equivalent of about 138,000 Btu per kilowatt hour. Initially
the Pearl Street utility served 59 customers for about 24 cents per kilowatt
In the late 1880s, power demand for electric motors brought the industry
from mainly nighttime lighting to 24-hour service and dramatically raised
electricity demand for transportation and industry needs. By the end of
the 1880s, small central stations dotted many U.S. cities; each was limited
to a few blocks area because of transmission inefficiencies of direct current
The success of his electric light
brought Thomas Edison to new heights of fame and wealth, as electricity
spread around the world. His various electric companies continued to grow
until in 1889 they were brought together to form Edison General Electric.
Despite the use of Edison in the company title however, he never controlled
this company. The tremendous amount of capital needed to develop the incandescent
lighting industry had necessitated the involvement of investment bankers
such as J.P. Morgan. When Edison General Electric merged with its leading
competitor Thompson-Houston in 1892, Edison was dropped from the name,
and the company became simply General Electric.
Also see the History
of the Lightbulb timeline.
His greatest challenge was the development
of a practical incandescent, electric light.
Was Thomas the inventor of the electric
Edison Motion Pictures - History
Thomas Edison's interest in motion
pictures began before 1888, however, the visit of Eadweard
Muybridge to his laboratory in West Orange in February of that year
certainly stimulated his resolve to invent a camera for motion pictures.
Muybridge proposed that they collaborate and combine the Zoopraxiscope
with the Edison phonograph. Although apparently intrigued, Edison decided
not to participate in such a partnership, perhaps realizing that the Zoopraxiscope
was not a very practical or efficient way of recording motion. In an attempt
to protect his future, he filed a caveat with the Patents Office on October
17, 1888, describing his ideas for a device which would "do for the eye
what the phonograph does for the ear" -- record and reproduce objects in
motion. He called it a "Kinetoscope,"
using the Greek words "kineto" meaning "movement" and "scopos" meaning
One of Edison's first motion picture
and the first motion picture ever copyrighted showed his employee Fred
Ott pretending to sneeze. One problem was that a good film for motion pictures
was not available. In 1893, Eastman Kodak began supplying motion picture
film stock, making it possible for Edison to step up the production of
new motion pictures. He built a motion picture production studio in New
Jersey. The studio had a roof that could be opened to let in daylight,
and the entire building was constructed so that it could be moved to stay
in line with the sun.
C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat
invented a film projector called the Vitascope and asked Edison to supply
the films and manufacture the projector under his name. Eventually, the
Edison Company developed its own projector, known as the Projectoscope,
and stopped marketing the Vitascope. The first motion pictures shown in
a "movie theater" in America were presented to audiences on April 23, 1896,
in New York City.
"Kinetoscope" comes from the Greek
words "kineto" meaning "movement" and "scopos" meaning "to watch."
for Inventing Entertainment
The following timeline focuses on
major events in Thomas Edison's personal life and on his motion picture
and phonograph innovations.
Projectors for Motion Pictures
The Edison Company developed its
own projector known as the Projectoscope or Projecting Kinetoscope in November
1896, and abandoned marketing the Vitascope.
of Edison Motion Pictures
Origins of motion pictures, the
Kinetoscope, and Edison Motion Pictures.
Life of Thomas Edison (1847-1931)
Genius of Menlo Park - Biography
He was a poor student. When a schoolmaster
called him "addled," his furious mother took him out of the school and
proceeded to teach him at home. Thomas Edison said many years later, "My
mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt
I had some one to live for, some one I must not disappoint." At an early
age, he showed a fascination for mechanical things and for chemical experiments.
Born on February 11, 1847 in Milan,
Ohio; the seventh and last child of Samuel and Nancy Edison. When he was
seven his family moved to Port Huron, Michigan and Edison lived there until
he struck out on his own at the age of sixteen. He had very little formal
education as a child, attending school only for a few months. He was taught
reading, writing, and arithmetic by his mother, but was always a very curious
child and taught himself much by reading on his own. This belief in self-improvement
remained throughout his life.
Not everything Thomas Edison created
was a success - he also had a few failures.
Laboratory, West Orange, New Jersey NPS Photo
Additional Biographies and History
List of Thomas Edison's Patents
A database of all 1,093 patents.
This is a long list please be patient for the download.
Other inventors who worked for Thomas
History of Electricity
History of the Gramophone
History of Motion Pictures
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page > The Life
of Thomas Alva Edison