Apr 18, 2019 | Updated: 11:44 AM EDT

10 Facts You Didn't Know about Edison

Apr 15, 2019 08:17 PM EDT

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Thomas Edison
(Photo : WikiImages)
Thomas Edison Childhood
(Photo : timetoast.com) Thomas Edison in his childhood
Edison Childhood
(Photo : timetoast.com) Thomas Edison started school at the age of 8 but got kicked out of school because he was always asking questions. His mom taught him after that He started school late because of the scarlet fever .
Young Thomas Edison
(Photo : timetoast.com) Thomas Edison started school at the age of 8 but got kicked out of school because he was always asking questions. His mom taught him after that He started school late because of the scarlet fever.

1. Edison Didn't Invent the Light Bulb

Original carbon-filament bulb from Thomas Edison.
(Photo : bulbs.com) Original carbon-filament bulb from Thomas Edison.

Thomas Edison is said to be the inventor of the electric bulb. However, this is far from the truth. In fact, two persons called Evans and Woodward designed a sort of crude light bulb in 1875 and they duly patented it. However, they didn't have enough funds to create a working prototype of it. When Edison came to know about this, he saw possibilities in this invention and purchased the rights for it. Then along with his researchers, he spent many years in his laboratory to change this light bulb into a workable source of light worth using. Although he didn't invent it, he was the person who could make this invention burn for an incredible 1.200 hours.

2. AC or DC?

With the advent of electric power, a lot of people think that the AC or alternating current has made the DC or direct current obsolete.  Edison was in favor of the DC but Nikola Tesla, who had once worked for him, and who created the AC was in favor of AC and this gave rise to a war of the currents with Tesla as his foe.  It is true that in time AC became the key system of electric power, but DC is superior for certain applications, and as such used extensively these days. For instance, almost all computers, cell phones, and several other electronic gadgets get charged by means of DC power, only thing is that all these devices need a DC adapter to be plugged into a wall electrical socket. The trouble with DC is that it cannot be sent over long distances. But now, there is every reason to believe that DC will return to its former glory in the near future and Edison the eventual winner of this war.

3. Edison vs. Tesla Rivalry Highly Exaggerated

In this rivalry, Edison was castigated as the villain and Tesla the sinned against, although this is grossly exaggerated. In fact, Edison was engaged in perfecting the DC system and wanted a young engineer to help him develop a finer system. At that time, Tesla suggested the AC system as an alternative. Talking of this incident, Tesla later said that Edison offered to pay him a lot of money for doing the work. When later he asked for the payment, Edison said it was just a joke and nothing more.

In fact, Edison praised Tesla to the skies and told him his ideas are very impractical. Being a sensitive person, Tesla was hurt by these words coming from a person he held in great reverence. While there was indeed some animosity between them, they didn't spend their time pondering much over it. The fact is that they had no time for this, as both were engaged in their inventions and promoting them. Apart from the spirit of competition, there was no bad blood between them and stories to this effect were largely blown up.

4. Edison vs. Westinghouse

Tesla had put in a lot of hard Tesla in making his AC a feasible system, but due to the current war, most people believe that it was a battle royal between Edison and Tesla, in which the former was trying very hard to destroy the latter who was against him in this respect. However, many were not aware of Tesla's selling off of all his rights on AC to an affluent entrepreneur named Westinghouse. Thus, the young man was not at all a part of the continuing current war.

5. The Revolutionary Phonograph

taken at Vendsyssel historiske Museum (Hjørring, Denmark) in 2004
(Photo : Tomasz Sienicki) Edison Phonograph taken at Vendsyssel historiske Museum (Hjørring, Denmark) in 2004

While people talked a lot about the light bulb, they seldom discussed the phonograph when it was invented. They didn't give it the attention it so rightly deserved. However, the invention changed the lives of people a whole lot more than they realized. At that time, it was just like the coming of the first of computers. The wonder device satisfied a need that none wanted to fill. To record sound and play it back afterward was something none had even heard of or imagined. It was for such inventions he was named The Wizard of Menlo Park.  Now, people take it for granted that they can record and play back the sounds they have recorded. At the time of the invention, not even a single person had imagined such a possibility.

He would use this technology later, combining it with other ideas to make moving pictures, thereby making him a pioneer in the field of cinema also.  Now, none would say he was the sole inventor of the light bulb and the motion pictures, but both these were essential to lead us to the present times.

6. Edison's Work in World War I

He was something of a celeb in those days, and the US Navy sought his services to aid them in preparing for a major war. The navy put him as the head of the Naval Consulting Board. Since he had contributed greatly to the industrialization of the country, the Navy thought he was a scientist brimming with great ideas to help the war effort. However, he did not think much about inventing weapons for a large scale war intended for mass destruction as he was averse to the idea of killing people.

7. Edison Took Risks for the Advancement of Science

At a time when X-ray technology remained wholly unknown, he became very much interested in it as it was something new to be discovered and so a challenge.  So, together with his assistant Dally, he started experiments with the mysterious rays, to make the whole process extra efficient. However, as their understanding of the dangerous nature of X-rays was minimal, they had to pay a heavy price for their endeavors. Dally was subjected to terrible burns on his hands with sores appearing all over his person and was forced to live many years in severe pain before dying of the harmful effects of radiation. As to Edison, it damaged his left eye permanently and also did much harm to his abdomen.  This damage made him discontinue his work, saying he was scared of these rays. Many saw him as a person who was greedy for profits. In fact, if he had patented the rays he could have made a lot of profit, but he chose not to do so, because of its dangerous nature. So he stopped work on x-rays and shifted to other projects as he thought them too perilous to play with, although he was a scientist of great experience and abilities.

8. Reforming the Federal Reserve

During his time, the Federal Reserve was maintaining the gold reserve,  meaning for every dollar note printed, gold of equivalent value was deposited giving the dollar a sound backing.  However, Edison felt that the system needed something more valuable than gold, something reasonably useful and stationary. So he envisaged a system that is based on the agricultural production of American farmers who should get loans without interest from their government so that growing crops became affordable. This means that some of the commodities would turn into money and function as a guarantee for loans extended by the American government.

9. Edison Became Deaf for One Year in Childhood

Many people today see Edison as a villain and the fact that he had problems with hearing was a part of this myth. Surprisingly, his revolutionary invention the phonograph had to do with recording sounds and play them back. He did this by overcoming his handicap, something very laudable and inspirational although many don't see him in this light as they are more interested in castigating him as an evil person. There are various versions as to how he became partly deaf but none knows for sure. He himself changed the story many times and he took his disability in a good spirit and was never a hindrance to his achievements.


10. Edison Was A Man of Great Empathy.

As mentioned earlier, contemporary sources were more interested in labeling him as a callous person in every way. As an inventor and businessman, he had his own faults like any person but was never a villain out to destroy others. Like all persons engaged in business, he was competitive but there is no proof of his making all-out efforts to demolish Nikola Tesla in the current war. His war against AC was caused by a real conviction that it was not very safe for all concerned, according to some historians.

The fact that he was anxious about others is exemplified in his developing safety equipment so that none of his researchers would be put to peril while operating his electronic equipment.  He was extremely troubled when his researchers fell sick during experiments. This is particularly obvious, about Clarence Dally who worked with him in his research about the effects of plutonium and radium. Dally lost both his arms, was miserable for many years and lost his life from radiation poisoning. He took care of Dally's family by keeping his them on his payroll for life, even when he couldn't work anymore. He certainly was a man of empathy, in spite of the claims to the contrary.

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