Thomas Edison: Everything You Didn't Know About The Famous Inventor

By | October 16, 2020

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Thomas Edison (1847–1931) was a prolific inventor who was issued over 1,000 patents over his lifetime. (George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)

The name "Thomas Edison" is almost synonymous with American innovation and ingenuity. This is the man, after all, who gave us the light bulb, phonograph, and the electric power generator. He held more than 1,000 patents, the most by any person in the United States, and founded the country's first industrial research facility. But there is much more to this prolific inventor than the electric light bulb—which, by the way, he didn't really invent.

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Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory, reconstructed at Greenfield Village at Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. (Andrew Balet/Wikimedia Commons)

The Wizard Of Menlo Park

Thomas Edison was called "the Wizard of Menlo Park" because he gave birth to his magical inventions in his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. The laboratory, the first of its kind in America, was built with the profits from the sale of Edison's quadruplex telegraph (an invention that allowed four signals to travel along the same wire at once) to Western Union for $10,000.

He chose New Jersey for the site because it was convenient to his customers in New York City, Boston, and other areas along the East Coast, but Edison was a Midwest boy himself. He was born in Milan, Ohio in 1847 to a Canadian father and New York mother and moved to Port Huron, Michigan with his family in 1854. The couple's youngest child seemed happy in the Great Lakes region, starting his own business selling newspapers, candy, and vegetables on the trains that ran between Detroit and Port Huron at just 13 years old. He earned a profit of $50 per week, which he used to buy electrical equipment and chemicals for his basement laboratory.

It was a job that put him miraculously in the right place at the right time to rescue a three-year-old boy who had wandered into the path of an oncoming train one day. The lad's father, the station agent at the local depot, was so grateful to Edison that he offered to train him in telegraph operation.