Thomas Edison applied for his first patent in 1868, when he was just 21 years old. The famous inventor’s first brainchild was for a device that recorded legislative votes. That was just the start of a career in which he would obtain 1,093 U.S. patents, in addition to another 500 to 600 applications that he either didn’t finish or were rejected. But Edison’s greatest invention may have been developing a new process for coming up with inventions.
“When Edison raised enormous capital, built a laboratory in Menlo Park, N.J., and hired a staff of several dozen, each with distinct talents, he pioneered what became the modern corporate research and development process,” explains Ernest Freeberg, a historian at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and author of The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America.
“He considered it an invention factory, one that would produce surprising new products at a regular rate.”
In many cases, Edison’s genius was taking a new technology that someone else had pioneered and developing a superior way of doing the same thing. “An invention not only has to work fairly well, but it has to be something that the market wants and can afford to buy. Edison understood that as well as anyone in his day,” says Freeberg.
Below are some of Edison’s most significant inventions.
While Samuel Morse’s invention of the telegraph in the 1830s and 1840s made it possible for the first time to communicate over long distances, the device had its drawbacks. An operator had to listen to incoming dots and dashes in Morse code, which slowed messages to a speed of 25 to 40 words per minute. A British system for automatically printing code in ink on paper only achieved 120 words tops.
Between 1870 and 1874, Edison developed a vastly superior system, in which a telegraph receiver utilized a metal stylus to mark chemically-treated paper, which then could be run through a typewriter-like device. It was capable of recording up to 1,000 words a minute, which made it possible to send long messages quickly.
Carbon Telephone Transmitter
It was Alexander Graham Bell who patented the telephone in 1876. But Edison, with his knack for building upon others’ innovations, found a way to improve Bell’s transmitter, which was limited in how far apart phones could be by weak electrical current. Edison got the idea of using a battery to provide current on the phone line and to control its strength by using carbon to vary the resistance. To do that, he designed a transmitter in which a small piece of lampblack (a black carbon made from soot) was placed behind the diaphragm. When someone spoke into the phone, the sound waves moved the diaphragm, and the pressure on the lampblack changed. Edison later replaced the lampblack with granules made from coal—a basic design that was used until the 1980s.
The Light Bulb
Contrary to popular belief, Edison didn’t actually invent the incandescent light bulb. But he invented and marketed a design that was the first to be long-lasting enough to be practical for widespread use.
“Edison was one of a half dozen who were putting the elements of a viable lighting system together in those years, and since Edison was late to the race, he benefited from all his predecessors and rivals,” Freeberg explains.
In the late 1870s, Edison designed a vacuum bulb, in which a metal filament could be heated to create light. One night, after absent-mindedly rolling between his fingers a piece of lampblack, the material he used in his telephone receiver, he got the idea for switching to a carbonized filament. After initially using carbonized cardboard, he began experimenting with other materials, and eventually settled upon bamboo, which possessed long fibers that made it more durable. Eventually, the combination of bamboo filaments and an improved vacuum pump that removed air more effectively enabled Edison to increase the lifetime of bulbs to approximately 1,200 hours.
While developing his telephone transmitter, Edison got the idea of creating a machine that could record and play back telephone messages. That notion led him to imagine being able to record not just voices, but music and other sounds, by using sound to vibrate a diaphragm and push a stylus that made indentations on a cylinder covered with wax paper that was being turned by a crank.
In late 1877, he got a machinist to build the device, using tin foil instead of wax, and Edison recorded the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The following year, he was granted a patent for the design, which also included a lighter needle to find the groves and transmit vibrations to a second diaphragm, which recreated the person’s voice.
Edison’s phonograph created a sensation and helped enhance his reputation as a great inventor. Eventually, he began to market and sell the machines and cylinder records, reverting again to using wax. But by the early 1900s, the Victor Talking Machine Company’s phonographs that played discs surpassed Edison’s cylinder phonographs in popularity. Even though cylinders produced better-quality sound, the early discs had a big advantage in that they could fit four minutes of music, compared to the two minutes that could fit on a cylinder.
Movie Camera and Viewer
In the late 1880s, Edison supervised his lab’s development of a technology “that does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.” Most of the work on the Kinetograph, an early movie camera, and the Kinetoscope, a single-person peephole movie viewer, was actually performed by Edison’s employee William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson. Movies became a big industry and Edison’s camera and viewer were quickly replaced by innovations such as the Lumière Cinématographe, a combination camera, printer and projector that allowed audiences to watch a film together. But Edison adjusted and his company became a thriving early movie studio, churning out scores of silent films between the 1890s and 1918, when it shut down production.
Alkaline Storage Battery
When the automobile was developed in the late 1800s, electric vehicles were more popular than those equipped with gasoline-burning internal combustion engines. But early electric cars had a big drawback—the batteries they used were heavy and tended to leak acid, which corroded the cars’ interiors.
Edison decided to take on the challenge of inventing a lighter, more dependable and more powerful battery. After conducting extensive research and the embarrassing flop of an early design, Edison came up with a reliable alkaline battery, and in 1910 began production of it. His work, however, was soon overshadowed by Henry Ford’s development of the inexpensive Model T car that ran on an internal combustion engine. Nevertheless, Edison’s storage battery was used in mining lamps, trains and submarines and turned into the most successful product of Edison’s later career.
Each patent represents trial and error, determination, and the persistence that one inventor or a team of inventors have invested into bringing an idea to fruition.
- The U.S. is a world leader in innovation. Strong IP systems foster innovation, which in turn drives economic success. Ten million patents worth of innovation represents trillions of dollars added to our global economy.
- The rates of innovation and invention continue to accelerate. It took 121 years to issue the first million patents (1790-1911), but just four years to move from patent 8 million to patent 9 million (2011-2015) and three years to move from patent 9 million to patent 10 million.
- To commemorate the issuance of patent 10 million, the USPTO unveiled a new patent cover design during a special ceremony at South by Southwest (SXSW) on March 11, 2018. The new design will debut with patent 10 million.
- The United States has recognized the importance of granting limited monopolies for new inventions since the adoption of our Constitution in 1789. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 charges Congress…
1. Spinning Jenny
The ‘Spinning Jenny’ was an engine for spinning wool or cotton invented in 1764 by James Hargreaves, who had it patented in 1770.
Able to be operated by unskilled workers, it was a key development in the industrialisation of weaving, as it could spin many spindles at a time, beginning with eight at a time and increasing to eighty as the technology improved.
The weaving of cloth was now no longer centred in the homes of textile workers, moving from a ‘cottage industry’ to industrial manufacture.
A model of spinning jenny. (Credit: Markus Schweiß/CC).
- At the age of ten, Thomas Edison built his first lab.
- Although Edison was partially deaf, he said he preferred it that way as it helped him concentrate.
- Edison proposed by way of Morse Code!
- Edison only received 3 months of formal education.
- He often dressed in dirty shirts and was unkempt.
- The period of 1879 to 1900 was named the Age of Edison - the period of time when he produced most of his inventions.
It is easy to make excuses and put your failure to be a success down to your lack of education or a circumstance that is out of your control. Too easy. Here is another example of someone who could have sat back and let life pass him by: Nick Vujicic was born with no arms or legs. Imagine that. He has more reason than most to just give up and settle for the very least he can get out of life, but guess what, he doesn&apost. He travels the globe, inspiring people to grow and improve themselves. He teaches people that it doesn&apost matter what you look like or what your circumstances are, you can still be happy AND successful. Compare his situation to yours and ask yourself whether you are living as fully as you are able to or taking the easy way out.
&aposStudies indicate that the one quality all successful people have is persistence.
They are willing to spend more time accomplishing a task and to persevere in the face of many difficult odds. There is a very positive relationship between people&aposs
ability to accomplish any task and the time they are willing to spend on it.&apos - Nelson Boswell o- Dr. Joyce Brothers
Forget Edison: This is How History's Greatest Inventions Really Happened
Except they didn't. The ideas didn't spring, Athena-like, fully formed from their brains. In fact, they didn't spring fully formed from anybody's brains. That is the myth of the lonely inventor and the eureka moment.
"Simultaneous invention and incremental improvement are the way innovation works, even for radical inventions," Mark A. Lemley writes in his fascinating paper The Myth of the Sole Inventor. Lemley's paper concentrates on the history and problems of patents. But he also chronicles the history of the 19th and 20th century's most famous inventors -- with an emphasis on how their inventions were really neither theirs, nor inventions. Here is a super-quick summary of his wonderful distillation of the last 200 years in collaborative innovation.
The fabric cotton comes from cotton fibers that mix with seeds in the pods of cotton plants. To make the fabric, therefore, you have to separate the fibers from the seeds. For centuries this was done mostly by hand, until Eli Whitney "invented" the cotton gin in 1793. But various forms of roller gins (i.e. technologies for separating fibers from seeds) had been around for thousands of years. Five years earlier, in 1788, Joseph Eve developed his own mechanized self-feeding roller gin. Whitney's true innovation was to improve existing cotton gins by "replacing rollers with coarse wire teeth that rotated through slits to pull the fiber from the seed." If this insight was a breakthrough, the glory goes to Whitney only he was faster than his competitors. In 1795, John Barcley filed a patent on a gin featuring circles of teeth -- awfully similar to Whitney's wire-tooth model (see left). In short, the modern cotton gin was a eureka moment that multiple inventors experienced nearly simultaneously and was expedited by their competition.
As the tale goes, Samuel Morse was having dinner with friends and debating electromagnetism (like you do) when he realized that if an electrical signal could travel instantly across a wire, why couldn't information do the same? Like most fun eureka stories,
it's a fib. The telegraph was invented by not only Morse, but also Charles Wheatstone, Sir William Fothergill Cooke, Edward Davy, and Carl August von Steinhiel so near to each other that the British Supreme Court refused to issue one patent. It was Joseph Henry, not Morse, who discovered that coiling wire would strengthen electromagnetic induction. Of Morse's key contribution -- the application of Henry's electromagnets to boost signal strength -- Lemley writes that "it is not even clear that he fully understood how that contribution worked."
Like Morse, Alexander Graham Bell invented a technology that would later bear his name. But how much did he deserve it? The problem that Bell solved was to turn electrical signals into sounds. But this was such an obvious extension of the telegraph that there were many people working on it. Philip Reis had already designed a sound transmitter in 1860, and Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (one guy) had already built a receiver. Bell's real contribution was "to vary the strength of the current to capture variations in voice and sound," Lemley writes. In this tweak, he was racing against Thomas Edison. Even Bell's final product -- which combined transmitter, fluctuating current, and receiver -- had company. Elisha Gray filed a patent application on the exact same day as Bell, only to lose the patent claim in court. Lemly's conclusion: "Bell's iconic status owes as much to his victories in court and in the marketplace as at the lab bench."
As just about everyone is taught, Thomas Edison invented the light-bulb. And as just about everyone later learns, Thomas Edison in no way invented the light-bulb. Electric lighting existed before him, incandescent light bulbs existed before him, and when other inventors got wind of Edison's tinkerings, they roundly sued him for patent infringement. So what did Edison actually do? He discovered that a special species of bamboo had a higher resistance to electricity than carbonized paper, which means it could more efficiently produce light. Edison got rich off the bamboo, and filthy disgusting rich from superior manufacturing and marketing of his product. But within a generation other inventors had developed better filaments and today's light-bulbs
Most of these stories here are about how we mistake incremental improvements for eureka moments. But the story of the movie projector is simpler. It's basically a story about theft. Francis Jenkins built what we consider the ur-instrument of the motion-picture industry with a projector that showed strips of films for 1/24th of a second, creating the illusion of moving pictures. But his financial backer stole the Jenkins prototype and sold it to a theater chain, which called it the "Edison Vitascope" for no better reason than the word Edison was familiar and useful for branding. That Edison was tinkering with his own movie projector is true, but besides the point. His legacy here was mostly the work of a thief.
Today's cars bear the names of their founders and innovators: Benz, Peugeot, Renault. But have you ever heard of a Dodge bicycle? Or a Mercedes tricycle? In fact, both companies specialized in bikes before moving the autos. The car industry represents the epitome of incremental innovation. Take a tricycle. Add an engine. You've got a car. (Just look at the picture to the right, of the the original Benz Motorwagen from 1885). Condensing the invention of cars to those six words leaves out a lot of detail and a few main characters. It was Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach who designed the first four-wheel car with a four-stroke engine and Henry Ford who perfected the assembly line. But the long story short is that the car was a typical "invention" that was far too complicated for one person to conceive on his won.
Speaking of building bikes, that's exactly what Orville and Wilbur Wright did before they became the first team to fly a heavier-than-air machine. But, as we've learned, every great inventor stands on the shoulders of giants. When the Wright brothers asked the Smithsonian for all available information on the history of flight in 1899, they opened a history that had begun with DaVinci's scribbling and continued all the way to the 19th century gliders of Otto Liliental. But the Wrights solved one of the most nagging problems facing airplane developers -- stability -- by having "a single cable warp the wing and turn the rudder at the same time." That was the tweak that put the first plane in the air.
The "Farnsworth Invention" was named after Philo T. Farnsworth, the nominal father of television. But his invention was neither his nor an invention. Teams of scientists and tinkerers all around the world were working to build, essentially, a radio for images -- i.e.: to combine the technology of a wireless telegraph with the magic of a movie projector. One key was the cathode ray tube, a vacuum with an electron gun that beams images onto screen that can receive or transmit signals. But the cathode ray tube itself has so many fathers that it's difficult to say exactly who invented even the central organ of the television, much less the television itself. In 1927, Farnsworth projected a straight line on a machine he called the Image Dissector, which is truly the basis for the all-electronic television. But, unlike Edison, he was not as gifted at marketing, producing, and becoming a household name for his tweak. "It may be accurate to describe Farnsworth as an inventor of the television, but surely not as the inventor," Lemley writes.
At the end of this section, Lemley lists four inventors who, yeah, okay, really were alone. But the funny thing about the exceptions is that they're almost all accidents.
Alexander Fleming discovered the anti-bacterial properties of penicillin because a sample of bacteria had accidentally been contaminated with mold. No one is sure where the mold came from Fleming's discovery was true serendipity. Even in that case, there is some evidence that others made the same accidental discovery. The adhesive behind the Post-It note was developed in 1968, and languished in 3M for six years before a different 3M employee hit on the idea of putting it to use attaching a bookmark to a book. Charles Goodyear discovered vulcanized rubber when a batch of rubber was accidentally left on a stove Goodyear had previously thought that heat was a problem for rubber, not the solution. Wilson Greatbatch developed the pacemaker when he accidentally grabbed the wrong resistor from a box when he was completing a circuit. Louis Daguerre invented film when, having failed to produce an image on an iodized silver plate, he put the plate away in a cabinet filled with chemicals and the fumes from a spilled jar of mercury produced an image on the plate.
It would seem that eureka is Greek for "oops."
Images above from top: the cotton gin patent by Eli Whitney a Morse key Edison's patent the Benz patent the Wright brothers take off, 1905 All credit: Wikimedia Commons
8. Thomas Edison's final breaths before death became a museum piece.A photo of American industrialist Henry Ford, who was friends with Thomas Edison up until Edison's death. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
During his career, Edison became friends with automobile pioneer Henry Ford. As Edison's health began to deteriorate and he was eventually relegated to a wheelchair, Ford bought one for himself so that they could race. When, in 1931, it seemed as if Edison's final days were numbered, some believe that Ford asked Edison's son Charles to try and capture his father's last breath in a test tube. While Charles did not do that, Edison's room did contain test tubes during his final moments that were close to his bed. Charles asked that they be sealed with paraffin and he gave one to Ford. Labeled "Edison's Last Breath?" it's currently located at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
4 Alexander Graham Bell's Six Nippled Sheep
As all of you (hopefully) know, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, which is arguably the single most important invention of all fucking time. As probably none of you know, one of Bell's less notable inventions is the six nippled sheep.
Bell spent the last 30 years of his life and $250,000 (adjusted for inflation that's roughly the Gross Domestic Product of Canada) on his beloved deranged sheep. Why would a famed inventor spend all his time and money just to shit on nature? To make more sheep, of course. Upon purchasing a pet ewe for his children, Bell noted sheep possessed only two nipples, an inferior number compared to pigs and cats. Evolution had clearly fucked this one up.
Bell figured that sheep with more nipples would naturally produce more offspring and thus make farmers' wallets fatter, a postulation not supported by science of any kind. Of course, the ramifications of the nipple enhanced sheep implies more far-reaching applications, the likes of which man has only fantasized about to this point.
Related: The Inventor Of The Phone Was Obsessed With Sheep Nipples
The Inventions Of Thomas Edison And Leonardo Da Vinci
Da Vinci believed that art held the significant key to wisdom and knowledge, so according to his belief, art and science are connected. His works were spectacular for in contain details and his ideas were far ahead of his time. Leonardo da Vinci also made one of the greatest and famous at work of all time, the Mona Lisa. Until today, Leonardo is still remembered as the “Renaissance Man”. Through his great endeavors in his work, is curiosity on things around him, and talents, he have gained all the spirit of the&hellip
The Failed Inventions of Thomas Edison
When asked about his failures in an interview Thomas Edison stated:
&ldquoI have not failed 10,000 times&mdashI&rsquove successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.&rdquo
Failure is Not the End
Thomas Edison did not like to refer to his inventions as successes or failures. In the field of inventing, it is possible to get bogged down by creations that don&rsquot turn out the way you want. However, Edison was not one to focus on what went wrong. He would rather focus on what he could learn or improve. His first patent for the Vote Recorder is a specific example of this.
Electrical Vote Recorder
Thomas Edison was very young when he invented the Vote Recorder. Due to this, Edison thought it was a sure thing. He believed his recorder would make life easier. Therefore, he took his invention to Congress. Due to its efficiency, however, Congress feared voters would not take the time to think through their votes. Therefore, it was promptly denied. Due to Congress&rsquos denial of his first patented invention, Edison could have easily walked away from the profession. However, he didn&rsquot see Congress&rsquos dismissal as an ending to his career or passion.
&ldquoOur greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.&rdquo &ndash Thomas Edison
The phonograph was Thomas Edison&rsquos favorite invention. He took the time to perfect it. He wanted it to not only record voices but music as well. Edison thought that he could take this technology and implement it into toys. He developed a housing for the machine. It was small enough to be placed inside doll bodies. Edison even had children record the voices for the dolls. This was so they would be more relatable. However, the quality was not great. It was even considered frightening. Due to crackling and hissing families thought that the dolls sounded like monsters. Therefore, his idea for the talking doll did not take off at the time. However, like the talking dolls of today, Edison opened the door for other modern technology.
Modern offices all have copiers. However, during Edison&rsquos time, there was no easy way to make multiples of the same work. The only way was to handwrite them. Handwritten copies had disadvantages. Along with misspellings, there was also a concern that the writing would be illegible. Therefore, Edison thought of a better solution. He believed an electric pen could change how offices, schools, and churches conducted business.
Edison combined a small motor and battery with a needle. The motor would then power the needle to move up and down. This movement caused the needle to poke holes through a stencil. Ink could then be rolled over the markings. It was then possible to make multiple copies of one written work.
The mechanics of the pen worked. However, it was heavy to work with. It was also loud for a business or academic environment. Therefore, Edison made improvements. He improved the sound and weight, but it wasn&rsquot enough. The pen required a battery. The battery required maintenance. Therefore, specific chemicals had to be poured into the machine. A process that was very messy.
Edison&rsquos electric pen was not the best match for businesses, schools, and churches. However, it did introduce new possibilities to a different industry. The tattoo industry. He did not hold the patent for the early tattoo gun. However, Edison&rsquos electric pen holds the credit for having a strong influence on the design.
Thomas Edison had a tattoo. It was five dots arranged how the number five is represented on a dice. However, no one is sure where Edison received his tattoo. Many people wonder if he tattooed himself using his own electric pen.
Thomas Edison&rsquos Electric Pen
Concrete, it&rsquos Not Just for Sidewalks
After developing a lightbulb for home use Edison was determined to continue to make life better for others. Edison came up with a way to pre-build pieces of homes out of cement. Therefore, keeping the cost low for struggling families. The idea was to pour the pieces for the houses. Then those pieces could be quickly assembled for those in need of housing. Due to their material, these homes would also be fireproof. However, there was resistance among the communities. The houses were eyesores. Furthermore, his target audience did not like the fact that everyone would know their financial situation.
In addition to creating cost-effective housing, Edison had the belief that he could develop cost-effective furniture. Therefore, Edison&rsquos idea for concrete homes became an idea to create concrete furniture. The belief was that newlyweds wouldn&rsquot want to spend too much on furniture that wouldn&rsquot last. The hopes were that they would flock to buy his cost-effective alternative that would last a lifetime. However, concrete was too expensive to be an alternative for other material. Also, people didn&rsquot like the look of the furniture.
Even though Edison&rsquos idea for concrete homes and furniture didn&rsquot take off it wasn&rsquot a complete failure. Edison&rsquos concrete company held the contract to build Yankee Stadium. Therefore, even though his concrete homes did not work out there was value to his idea of building concrete structures. In addition to Yankee Stadium, the few concrete homes he did sell, still stand today.
The Edison Spirit Phone
Another interest of Thomas Edison&rsquos was the spirit world. He spoke about an invention that was a combination of technology from the telephone and the telegraph. The concept of this new invention was to cross the line between the living and the dead. It was also Edison&rsquos hope that it would make it possible for people to have conversations with the dead.
However, there was never any proof that the invention was real. Even after Edison&rsquos death, no record of a spirit phone was found. Therefore, it has become a belief that there was never any intentions of creating such a device. The only evidence of such a phone was Edison&rsquos mention of it in an interview. This is now seen as being a joke that he pulled.
Even without evidence, there are still people who believe that Edison had such a creation. It is some of those same people, who believe that he kept it to himself. They also believe he never shared his plans with any of his coworkers or fellow inventors. Whether it was real or just a grand joke Edison definitely peaked interest with the possibility of this invention. This is Due to people often being intrigued by the thought of communicating with their passed loved ones.
The Iron Ore Separator
Thomas Edison had multiple inventions. Many of which that can be thought of as failures. However, there is none like his Iron Ore Separator. Edison spent money, time, and resources on developing technology for his separator. The end goal was to be able to separate the iron ore from lower grade ores that were unusable. Edison worked for ten years on his separator project. He invested all of the money he had earned from his work with General Electric. In the end, all of the money he had invested had been for nothing. Edison ended his project when iron ore prices dropped. Also, iron ore became an obsolete substance. If not for his sustainable success of the phonograph Edison would&rsquove been left with nothing after the separator incident.
Successes and Failures in Inventing
Thomas Edison is seen as one of the greatest inventors that ever lived. He had multiple successes and failures. However, his failures never stopped him. His life was about his inventions. He was continuously seeking answers and solutions. Edison was an inventor until his death. He stuck with his passion for inventing. Even when his inventions didn&rsquot turn out how he thought they would. Also, there were times he was able to change his idea to suit what the situation needed at the time.
A Practical Light Bulb
Thomas Edison's greatest challenge was the development of a practical incandescent, electric light.
Contrary to popular belief, he didn't "invent" the lightbulb, but rather he improved upon a 50-year-old idea. In 1879, using lower current electricity, a small carbonized filament and an improved vacuum inside the globe, he was able to produce a reliable, long-lasting source of light.
The idea of electric lighting was not new. A number of people had worked on and even developed forms of electric lighting. But up to that time, nothing had been developed that was remotely practical for home use. Edison's achievement was inventing not just an incandescent electric light, but also an electric lighting system that contained all the elements necessary to make the incandescent light practical, safe, and economical. He accomplished this when he was able to come up with an incandescent lamp with a filament of carbonized sewing thread that burned for thirteen and a half hours.
There are a couple of other interesting things about the invention of the light bulb. While most of the attention has been given to the discovery of the ideal filament that made it work, the invention of seven other system elements were just as critical to the practical application of electric lights as an alternative to the gas lights that were prevalent in that day.
- The parallel circuit
- A durable light bulb
- An improved dynamo
- The underground conductor network
- The devices for maintaining constant voltage
- Safety fuses and insulating materials
- Light sockets with on-off switches
And before Edison could make his millions, every one of these elements had to be tested through careful trial and error and developed further into practical, reproducible components. The first public demonstration of the Thomas Edison's incandescent lighting system was at the Menlo Park laboratory complex in December of 1879.