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Bright Sparks – Thomas Edison

The modern world would look very different without the contributions of those who helped us harness electricity and develop electrical equipment. Here, we focus on some of the pioneers of the electrical world and their remarkable achievements.

NAME: Thomas Alva Edison

DATES: 11 February 1847 (Ohio, US) – 18 October 1931 (New Jersey, US)

EARLY LIFE: Following a stint as a newspaper boy on the Grand Trunk Railroad, Edison spent five years as
a telegraph operator then opened a manufacturing shop making stock tickers (his own invention) and telegraph instruments.

The sale of his quadruplex telegraph invention allowed him to establish his ground-breaking industrial research laboratory Menlo Park in 1876.

FIRST INVENTION: Electrical Vote Recorder.



1877 invented the phonograph (precursor of the gramophone) and patented the Carbon Telephone Transmitter, also used in radio broadcasting.

1878-9 set up Edison Electric
Light Company and developed the incandescent electric light bulb, plus fuses, sockets, switches and other electrical ancillary products.

1880 invented the magnetic ore separator and founded the Edison Illuminating Company for the distribution of electricity.

1 882 opened the first commercial incandescent lighting and power station in London.

1885 patented wireless induction telegraphy systems for trains to communicate with stations and ships to communicate with shore bases.

1891 exhibited the kinetograph motion picture camera and kinetoscope viewer (his film studio made over 1,000 films).

1896 created the fluoroscope for viewing X-rays; applied for a patent on the first fluorescent lamp.


1900-1910 developed the nickel-iron- alkaline storage battery.

1901 construction of the Edison Cement Plant began.

1907 developed the universal electric motor.

1913 developed the kinetophone (talking movie).

1 914 patented the electric safety lantern, used widely by miners.

1914-1919 worked out how to manufacture synthetic carbolic acid and built several coal-tar plants – both important in the war effort.

1928 awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

3 things you might not know:

1. In 1862, Edison saved a young boy from being hit by a train. As a thank you, the boy’s father taught him telegraphy, which furthered his burgeoning interest in electricity.

2. Edison was mostly home schooled by his mother.

3. Edison was very hard of hearing and proposed to his second wife by tapping out Morse Code on her palm.


Having invented or helped develop devices from the phonograph and motion picture camera to the electric light bulb, Edison’s place in the history of electricity is assured.

Working with large teams and harnessing the benefits of mass production, he had a major impact on many industries – benefiting the lives of ordinary people.

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