Thomas Edison’s Greatest Inventions

Thomas Edison was an iconic personality of 19th-century American business and engineering environment whose works pioneered mass consumption and distribution of electricity. He was also famed for making his bamboo filament electric light bulbs a commercially viable enterprise.

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.

Edison’s Most Famous Inventions

Thomas Edison

Ohio-born inventor Thomas Edison conducted research works and experiments in a host of areas, including mass communication, sound recording, motion pictures, and electric power generation. The following are five major inventions by Thomas Edison.

Edison’s first patent – the stock ticker, the first electricity-based broadcast system

Out of job and with no regular source of income, a young Edison had a tough time making ends meet in Louisville, Kentucky. Regardless he continued applying himself in engineering, conducting one experiment after the other. His hard work ultimately paid off as he successfully secured his first patent on June 1, 1869. The patent, which was for a stock ticker, fetched him a reasonable amount of money when he sold it to Western Union later on. The electricity-powered device, which uses alphanumeric characters in attaining printing speed of about one character per second, was used to print abbreviated company names during stock transactions.

The quadruplex telegraph

In the late 1860s, he moved to New York City, where he was mentored by Massachusetts-born inventor and engineer Franklin Leonard Pope (1840-1895). Pope allowed him to crash in his basement for a while. He then began working at Gold Indicator Company.

Edison and Pope set up a company in 1869. It was around this time that he came out with his quadruplex telegraph, whose rights he sold in the 1870s to Western Union for about $10,000 (about 200,000 in today’s dollar).

With the funds earned, he proceeded to stock his research laboratory with the latest gadgets and qualified assistants.

Thomas Edison’s phonograph

Around the age of 30, Thomas Edison came out with the phonography, one of the first audio recording devices ever made. At its core, Edison’s phonography was an early form of the gramophone player. His invention was met with critical acclaim and public interest. In April 1878, he demonstrated the phonography in Washington D.C., at the National Academy of Sciences. In attendance were many scientists and politicians, including then U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Following a public demonstration of his popular invention the phonography, Edison received enormous praise from many media organizations, including the Washington Post who described the inventor’s presentation as an event “that will live in history”. Soon, he would earn the nickname “The Wizard of Menlo Park”. Many of his colleagues were full of praise of him, including Joseph Henry, then-president of the National Academy of Sciences, who described Edison as the most ingenious inventor in America.

Read More: 10 Major Achievements of U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes

The carbon telephone transmitter for Western Union

By 1877, Edison had successfully applied his carbon telephone transmitter technology to improve upon the telephone used by Western Union. The technology worked by modulating a direct current and thereafter transferring the signal that is generated to the telephone line. Prior to the carbon telephone transmitter microphone for telephone generated a weak current. In other words, the technology improved upon Bell Telephone microphone.

The bamboo filament electric light bulb

Thomas Edison is credited with commercializing the electric light bulb. Image: Thomas Edison’s first successful model of light bulb, used in public demonstration at Menlo Park, December 1879

Contrary to the popularly held belief, Thomas Edison was in fact not the inventor of the light bulb. That honor goes to a British scientist called Warren de la Rue. The first light bulb was invented in 1840 by Rue using a coiled platinum filament. High production cost due to the cost of the platinum used made it difficult for the British scientist to commercialize the light bulb.

However, it was not until Thomas Edison and his team of scientists had a breakthrough with the production. Edison also went a step further by making the bulbs last longer, securing about 1,000 hours of use. The inventor had carried out several trials before he came to a conclusion that bamboo was the best filament that would allow him to make the light bulb a commercially viable product.

With the aid of fellow engineer and inventor William Joseph Hammer, Edison was able to get his incandescent electric bulb to the market. The product, which used carbonized bamboo filament, was a huge commercial success. In its first year alone, Edison manufactured about 50,000 bulbs. Edison’s carbonized bamboo filament bulb could get more than 1,000-hour of use. His U.S. patent for the electric light bulb was granted on January 27, 1880.

Other notable inventions by Thomas Edison

In his decades’ long career, he invented many things, including the electric light bulb, the electric car, and the motion picture camera, among others. He held more than one thousand U.S. patents. Image: Edison in 1915

The following are some other important inventions of Thomas Edison:

  • The Fluroscopy – a machine that uses X-rays to take radiographs
  • The Tasimeter – a device used to measure infrared radiation
  • The Kinetoscope (built in 1891) – also known as peephole-hole viewer, the Kinetoscope was an invention that had applications in media houses at the time.
  • An “accumulator” – a rechargeable battery (a nickel-iron battery) that was lighter and slightly more efficient than the batteries that existed at the time, including the lead acid batteries

Fast Facts about Thomas Edison

Born: Thomas Alva Edison

Birthday: February 11, 1847

Place of birth: Milan, Ohio, United States

Died: October 18, 1931

Place of death: West Orange, New Jersey, United States

Aged: 84

Parents: Samuel Ogden Edison Jr. and Nancy Mathews Elliot

Siblings: Seven

Education: Self-educated

Spouses:  Mary Stilwell (1871-1884); Minal Miller (married in 1886)

Children: Marion (1873-1965), Thomas (1876-1935), William (1878-1937), Madeleine (1888-1970), Charles (1890-1969), Theodore (1898-1992).

Nicknames: The Wizard of Menlo Park

Major awards and honors: Honorary PhD from Union College in New York (1878), Chevalier in the Legion (1879), Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (elected in 1887), John Scott Medal (1889), Franklin Medal (1915), Navy Distinguished Service Medal (1920), Edison Medal (1923), Congressional Gold Medal (1928).

People who influenced Edison: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine

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