Thomas Edison was an American inventor and businessman. Born in 1847, he is often described as America’s greatest inventor, having held more than 1,000 patents for his inventions, and is perhaps best known for the creation of the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb.
Aside from Edison’s wonderful inventions that brought light and recorded sound to the world, he was also a prodigious cigar smoker. He enjoyed celebrating his successes with a cigar, preferably won from a lab assistant after betting he could not perform whatever feat of technological sorcery he was attempting. Edison’s life was rich with discoveries, inventions and cigars.
One of seven children, Edison was born in Milan, Ohio and grew up in Port Huron, Michigan. Edison attended school only briefly before being taught instead by his mother. He showed a voracious appetite for knowledge by age eleven that would see him develop a process for self-education and learning independently that would serve him well throughout life.
A bout of scarlet fever and ear infections caused Edison to have hearing difficulties that would have him nearly deaf by adulthood. This was further exasperated by an incident involving an early experiment. A twelve-year-old Edison had access to the railroad because he sold newspapers along the railroad line, and this access granted him the ability to conduct chemical experiments in a small laboratory he set up in a train baggage car. During one experiment, a chemical fire started and the car caught fire. The conductor came to see the commotion and struck Edison on the side of the head, furthering some of his hearing loss.
He was kicked off the train and was forced to sell the newspapers at various stations along the route. This bout as a newspaper salesman would be the first in a long string of entrepreneurial ventures that Edison embarked on.
Edison the Telegrapher
One of Edison’s first jobs was working for the railroad. After Edison saved a three-year-old from being struck by a runaway train, the child’s father – the station agent – was so grateful that he trained Edison as a telegraph operator. This seemingly inconsequential moment would lead Edison to create some of the incredible inventions we know him for today.
For five years he travelled the Midwest as a telegrapher, stepping in for those who had gone to the Civil War. His night time shifts allowed him to spend time reading and experimenting. Edison excelled at his telegraph job, as the nature of Morse code being inscribed meant that his deafness did not hinder him. However, as the technology developed, sound became essential as the messages were “read” with the sound of clicks, putting Edison at a disadvantage that left him with fewer opportunities for employment.
In 1868 Edison moved to Boston and worked in the West Union office and spent time on his inventions. Just a year later in 1869, he left this job to devote himself to inventing full time. However, his involvement with the telegraph was far from over.
Edison’s first patent was for the electric vote recorder, but it was unsuccessful as politicians were reluctant to put it to use. He decided to no longer waste time on inventions no one wanted; he moved to New York City and became involved in multiple projects and partnerships dealing with the telegraph.
Edison received several patents to improve the telegraph, developing an automatic telegraph in 1870. In 1874 he worked on a multiplex telegraph system for Western Union, known as the quadruplex telegraph, which could send two messages simultaneously in both directions. He also developed an electric pen in 1875 which, whilst largely unsuccessful, would later form the inspiration for Samuel O’Reilly’s invention, the first electric tattoo gun, in 1891.
He continued inventing and built up a reputation as a prolific inventor, his laboratory became known as an “invention factory”. In 1877 he experimented with Alexander Graham Bell’s work with the telephone and this led to the invention of the phonograph. He realised that sound could be recorded as indentations on a rapidly moving piece of paper. Initially it was treated as a machine for dictations and it wasn’t until 1890 that it was used to record music.
Edison’s Light Bulb
It is incorrectly assumed that Edison invented the first lightbulb; he did, however, develop the technology to help bring it to the masses. In 1878 he began working on a system of electrical illumination, something he hoped would compete against gas and oil-based lighting.
Earlier inventors had devised incandescent lamps, but they had serious flaws in that they had an extremely short life and high expense. After many experiments with carbon filaments, platinum and other metals, Edison produced the first successful test on 22nd October 1879; it lasted 13.5 hours. He filed a patent for an electric lamp using “a carbon filament or strip coiled and connected to platina contact wires”. This was the first commercially practical incandescent light.
Edison spent most of his remaining years supervising the development of lighting technology and power systems; he perfected the phonograph, developed the motion picture camera and the alkaline storage battery. During his lifetime, he received 1,093 patents and filed an additional 500 to 600 that were either unsuccessful or abandoned. His last patent was for an apparatus for holding objects during the electroplating process, which was filed in 1931, just two days before his death at the age of 84.
His incredible story has made him a hero in America. During his life he was one of the most well-known and respected Americans in the world and was at the forefront of America’s first technological revolution. Edison set the stage for the modern electric world.
An incredible life spent crafting wonderful inventions that changed the very course of human history. Edison was frequently photographed with a cigar between his fingers, perhaps the only appropriate way to celebrate such a life is with a good smoke. To purchase your own premium cigars, you can find the JJ Fox cigar shop in London or browse through our extensive range of cigars online.