Edison's forebears lived in New Jersey until their loyalty to the British
crown during the American Revolution drove them to Nova Scotia, Canada.
From there, later generations relocated to Ontario and fought the Americans
in the War of 1812. Edison's mother, Nancy Elliott, was originally from
New York until her family moved to Vienna, Canada, where she met Sam Edison,
Jr., whom she later married. When Sam became involved in an unsuccessful
insurrection in Ontario in the 1830s, he was forced to flee to the United
States and in 1839 they made their home in Milan, Ohio.
Thomas Alva Edison was born to Sam
and Nancy on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio. Known as "Al" in his youth,
Edison was the youngest of seven children, four of whom survived to adulthood.
Edison tended to be in poor health when young.
To seek a better fortune, Sam Edison
moved the family to Port Huron, Michigan, in 1854, where he worked in the
Edison was a poor student. When a
schoolmaster called Edison "addled," his furious mother took him out of
the school and proceeded to teach him at home. 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
In 1859, Edison took a job selling
newspapers and candy on the Grand Trunk Railroad to Detroit. In the baggage
car, he set up a laboratory for his chemistry experiments and a printing
press, where he started the "Grand Trunk Herald", the first newspaper published
on a train. An accidental fire forced him to stop his experiments on board.
Around the age of twelve, Edison
lost almost all his hearing. There are several theories as to what caused
his hearing loss. Some attribute it to the aftereffects of scarlet fever
which he had as a child. Others blame it on a conductor boxing his ears
after Edison caused a fire in the baggage car, an incident which Edison
claimed never happened. Edison himself blamed it on an incident in which
he was grabbed by his ears and lifted to a train. He did not let his disability
discourage him, however, and often treated it as an asset, since it made
it easier for him to concentrate on his experiments and research. Undoubtedly,
though, his deafness made him more solitary and shy in dealings with others.
Edison - Telegraph Work
Photos Library of Congress, Motion
Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division