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Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Biography of Thomas Edison(2)

 The Biography of Thomas Edison(1)

 Stearns,  finally sold the patent for this highly significant cost-cutting invention to Western Union for $750,000. Bredding (and Edison, of course) wound up getting absolutely nothing from the venture. In the meantime, however, Bredding provided his pal, Tom  Edison, with his first detailed introduction and understanding of the state-of-the-art of the harmonograph and the multiplex transmitter.... 
     Unlike Edison, Bredding was an extremely modest individual with little taste for aggrandizement and self promotion... The pathetic upshot of all this was that - while the caprice associated with the rough and tumble world of patenting inventions in the mid-19th century ultimately crushed Bredding's innately mild and somewhat naive spirit  and his extraordinary potential - it merely spurred the tough-minded Edison on to not only improve the duplex transmitter, but to later patent the world's first quadruplex transmitter....
Deeply in debt and about to be fired by Western Union for "not concentrating on his primary responsibilities and doing too much moonlighting," Edison now borrowed $35.00 from his fellow telegrapher and "night owl" pal, Benjamin Bredding, to purchase a steamship ticket to the "more commercially oriented city of New York."  

During the third week after arriving in "the big apple" Tom (seen left) was purportedly "on the verge of starving to death." At this precipitous juncture, one of the most amazing coincidences in the annals of technological history now began to unfold.  Immediately after having begged a cup of tea from a street vendor, Tom began to meander through some of the offices in New |York's financial district. Observing that the manager of  a local brokerage firm was in a panic, he eventually determined that  a critically important stock-ticker in his office had just broken down....

    Noting that no one in the crowd that had gathered around the defective machine seemed to have a clue on how to fix it, he elbowed his way into the scene and grasped a momentary opportunity to have a go at addressing what was wrong himself.... Luckily, since he had been sleeping in the basement of the building for a few days - and doing quite a bit of snooping around - he already had a pretty good idea of what the device was supposed to do.
     After spending  a few seconds confirming exactly how the stock ticker was intended to work in the first place, Tom reached down and manipulated a loose spring back to where it belonged.  To everyone's amazement, except Tom's, the device began to run perfectly.

     The office manager was so ecstatic, he made an on-the-spot decision to hire Edison to make all such repairs for the busy company for a salary of $300.00 per month.... This was not only more than what his pal Benjamin Bredding was making back in Boston but twice the going rate for a top electrician in New York City. Later in life, Edison recalled that the incident was more euphoric than anything he ever experienced in his life because it made him feel as though he had been "suddenly delivered out of abject poverty and into prosperity."

 Success at last!

     It should come as no surprise that, during his free time, Edison soon resumed  his habit of "moonlighting" with the telegraph, the quadruplex transmitter, the stock-ticker, etc. Shortly thereafter, he was absolutely astonished - in fact he nearly fainted - when a corporation paid him $40,000 for all of his rights to the latter device.

     Convinced that no bank would honor the large check he was given for it, which was the first "real" money he had ever received for an invention, young Edison walked around for hours in a stupor, staring at it in amazement. Fearful that someone would steal it, he laid the cash out on his bed and stayed up all night, counting it over and over in disbelief. The next day a wise friend told him to deposit it in a bank forthwith and to just forget about it for a while.

     A few weeks later, Edison wrote a series of poignant letters back home to his father: "How is mother getting along?... I am now in a position to give you some cash... Write and say how much....Give mother anything she wants...." Interestingly, It was at  this time that he also repaid Bredding the $35.00 he had borrowed  earlier.

     Over the next three years, Edison's progress in creating successful inventions for industry really took off....  For example, in 1874 - with the money he received from the sale of an electrical engineering firm that held several of his patents - he opened his first complete  testing and Cartoon of Edisondevelopment laboratory in Newark, New Jersey.

   At age 29, he commenced work on the carbon transmitter, which ultimately made Alexander Graham Bell's amazing new "articulating" telephone (which by today's standards sounded more like someone trying to talk through a kazoo than a telephone) audible enough for practical use. Interestingly, at one point during this intense period, Edison was as close to inventing the telephone as Bell was to inventing the phonograph. Nevertheless, shortly after Edison moved his laboratory to Menlo Park, N.J. in 1876, he invented - in 1877 - the first phonograph.

     In 1879, extremely disappointed by the fact that Bell had beaten him in the race to patent the first authentic transmission of the human voice, Edison now "one upped" all of his competition by inventing the first commercially practical incandescent electric light bulb...

Edison's invention of the light bulb cartoon
     And if that wasn't enough to forever seal his unequaled importance in technological history, he  came up with an invention that - in terms of its collective affect upon mankind - has had more impact than any other. In 1883 and 1884, while beating a path from his research lab to the patent office, he introduced the world's first economically viable system of centrally generating and distributing electric light, heat, and power. (See "Greatest Achievement?") Powerfully, instrumental in impacting upon  the world we know today, even his harshest critics grant that it was a Herculean achievement that only he was capable of bringing about at this specific point in history.
Edison portrait 1883
By 1887, Edison was recognized for having set up the world's first full fledged research and development center in West Orange, New Jersey. An amazing enterprise, its significance is as much misunderstood as his work in developing the first practical centralized power system. Regardless, within a year, this fantastic operation was the  largest scientific testing laboratory in the world.
     In 1890, Edison immersed himself in developing the first Vitascope, which would lead to the first  silent motion pictures.

     And, by 1892, his Edison General Electric Co. had fully merged with another firm to become the great General Electric Corporation, in which he was a major stockholder.

     At the turn-of-the-century, Edison invented the first practical dictaphone, mimeograph, and storage battery. After creating the "kinetiscope" and the first silent film in 1904, he went on to introduce The Great Train Robbery in 1903, which was a ten minute clip that was his first attempt to blend audio with silent moving images to produce "talking pictures."

     By now, Edison was being hailed world-wide as The wizard of Menlo Park, The father of the electrical age," and The greatest inventor who ever lived." Naturally, when World War I began, he was asked by the U. S. Government to focus his genius upon creating defensive devices for submarines and ships. During this time, he also perfected a number of important inventions relating to the enhanced use of rubber, concrete, and ethanol.

     By the 1920s Edison was internationally revered. However,  even though he was personally acquainted with scores of very important people of his era, he cultivated very few close friendships. And due to the continuing demands of his career, there were still relatively long periods when he spent a shockingly small amount of time with his family.

It wasn't until his health began to fail, in the late 1920s, that Edison finally began to slow down and, so to speak, "smell the flowers." Up until obtaining his last (1,093rd) patent at age 83, he worked mostly at home where, though increasingly frail, he enjoyed greeting former associates and famous people such as Charles Lindberg, Marie Curie, Henry Ford, and President Herbert Hoover etc. He also enjoyed reading the mail of admirers and puttering around, when  able, in his office and home laboratory. 

Edison portrait

     Thomas Edison died At 9 P.M. On Oct. 18th, 1931 in New Jersey. He was 84 years of age. Shortly before passing away, he awoke from a coma and quietly whispered to his very religious and faithful wife Mina, who had been keeping a vigil all night by his side:  "It is very beautiful over there..."

     Recognizing that his death marked the end of an era in the progress of civilization, countless individuals, communities, and corporations throughout the world dimmed their lights and, or, briefly turned off their electric power in his honor on the evening of the day he was laid to rest at his beautiful estate at Glenmont, New Jersey.  Most realized that, even though he was far from being a   flawless human being and may not have really had the avuncular personality that was so often ascribed to him by myth makers, he was an essentially good man with a powerful mission....  Driven by a superhuman desire to fulfill the promise of research and invent things to serve mankind, no one did more to help realize  our Puritan founders dream of creating a  country that - at its best - would be viewed by the rest of the world as "a shining city upon a hill."


Because of the  peculiar voids that Edison often evinced in  areas such as  cognition, speech, grammar, etc., a number of medical authorities have argued  that he may have been plagued by a fundamental learning disability that went  well beyond mere deafness....  A few  of have conjectured that this mysterious ailment - along with his lack of a formal education - may account for why he always seemed to "think so differently" compared to others of his time: "Always tenaciously clinging to those unique methods of analysis and experimentation with which he alone seemed to feel so comfortable...." 
Whatever the impetus for his unique personality and traits, his incredible ability to come up with a meaningful new patent every two weeks throughout his working career "added more to the collective wealth of the world - and had more impact upon shaping modern civilization - than the accomplishments of any figure since Gutenberg...." Accordingly, most serious science and technology historians grant that he was indeed "The most influential figure of our millennium."

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