What you may not already know about Thomas Edison

Vintage illustration of Thomas Edison and the phonograph.

In an article for Mental Floss, Mark Mancini shares 11 surprising facts about Thomas Edison.

Credit: duncan1890/Getty Images

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Here are the first five.

Want to make a movie? You’ll need quality light fixtures, sound recording equipment, and a good motion picture camera. Thomas Alva Edison helped develop all three technologies. He was born in Milan, Ohio, on February 11, 1847, and had amassed 1093 patents by the time of his death in 1931. Here are 11 things you should know about the prolific inventor, manufacturer, and businessman.

1. Thomas Edison’s dad joined a failed revolution in Canada.

In 1837 and 1838, pro-democracy rebels in Canada began protesting the British Crown’s administration of its North American territory. Nova Scotia native Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. was among them. During this brief but violent period, Edison marched on Toronto. Rather than face legal consequences for his actions, he later fled to the United States, where his son, Thomas, was born.

2. In his youth, Thomas Edison built a chemistry lab on a train.

The Edison family relocated from Ohio to Port Huron, Michigan, in 1854. When he was 12, Thomas Edison started selling candies and newspapers on the Grand Trunk Railroad, which carried passengers to and from Detroit. Not only did Edison set up a chemistry lab in the baggage car, but he also built a printing press for an original newspaper he created, The Grand Trunk Herald.

3. Thomas Edison’s first patented invention was a vote-counting device.

When Edison patented his Electrographic Vote-Recorder machine in 1869, he thought it would speed up the voting process in American legislatures. Instead of shouting “yea” or “nay” one by one, representatives could flip a switch and have their votes tallied electronically. However, politicians didn’t like the idea because, unlike the old system, it left no room for filibusters or last-minute deals. The device went unused.

4. Thomas Edison thought his poor hearing helped him concentrate.

As he grew older, Edison became completely deaf in one ear and partly deaf in the other. A childhood case of scarlet fever might have been the cause. “Earache came first, then deafness, and this deafness increased until at the theatre I could only hear a few words now and then,” Edison wrote.

Yet he felt that his hearing problems gave him a career advantage: They made it easier for the inventor to concentrate on his work without aural distractions. “My deafness has not been handicap, but a help to me,” he claimed.

5. Thomas Edison was not the sole inventor of the light bulb.

Electric lamps had been around since 1802. Warren De La Rue, a British inventor, created one of the earliest light bulbs in 1840. Yet the first bulbs were not commercially viable due to their brightness levels and short lifespans. (Expensive parts became another roadblock.)

On January 27, 1880, Edison was granted a patent for a cheap, long-lasting incandescent bulb that didn’t require much electricity to function. He then worked with his employees to develop light switches, electric meters, and a power system capable of running the whole show.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

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