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Illustrated Guide to Influential People

Thomas Edison


Thomas Edison was an American technological pioneer who has often been described as America’s greatest inventor. He invented and developed many things that have influenced life around the planet including electric lighting, the phonograph, and commercial electrical generation and development.

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Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was born to a middle class family in Milan, Ohio on February 11 1847. In Edison’s early life, he was taught how to be a telegraph operator and this experience sparked his interest in electronics and inventing.

Edison’s invention which gained him widespread recognition was the phonograph. There had been other inventions that could record sound, but this was the first invention to be able to replay the recorded sounds. This allowed people for the first time to play recorded music in their homes. In 1876 Edison developed a carbon microphone to be used in telephones. This microphone was better than the earlier models because instead of producing a weak current, the microphone modulated a current passing through it.

Edison is often credited with the invention of the lightbulb, but he wasn’t the only person who was involved with its development. As early as 1802, Humphry Davy had invented the electric arc lamp. The incandescent light bulb was helped along by a number of people such as Warren de la Rue, Joseph Wilson Swan, Henry Woodward, and Matthew Evans. In 1878 Edison began working on his system of electrical illumination. The issue with early light bulbs was that they were expensive to make and had short lifetimes. Edison took the earlier design and made it more practical. He took the filament and made it smaller. He produced a bulb that was practical and inexpensive, allowing many people for the first time to use it in their homes.The lightbulb he produced allowed people to work longer hours even when it is dark outside.

Edison opened early steam power stations, first in London then in New York. London was the first coal-fired power station. He wanted to produce and electric utility that would allow electricity to be distributed to people’s homes. Edison was involved in a dispute with Nikola Tesla, someone who he originally employed, over which type of current should be used as a standard. Edison was a proponent of a direct current system and Tesla was in favor of an alternating current system. Edison lost this, due to the fact the AC could be transported over larger distances at high voltage and then ‘stepped-down’ into lower voltages to use in people homes and places of work.

Edison also worked in a wide range of other fields such as telegraphs, motion picture, battery technology and mining. Edison died of complications due to diabetes on October 1931 in West Orange, New Jersey.

Edison’s Significant Accomplishments

  • Invention of the phonograph
  • Development of practical incandescent light bulbs
  • Development of electric grid systems

Thomas Edison Quotes

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


“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”


“ Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”


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