Honey, where’s my car ke-OMG, IS THAT THOMAS ALVA EDISON? HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Thomas Alva Edison! DUDE! It’s the “Wizard of Menlo Park!!!”
(actually Tommy’s birthday was yesterday, but I had a gig and I was gone all day so don’t say anything) TOMMAAAAAY!
So, those of you who know Tommy A. Edison (February 11, 1847 — October 18, 1931) probably know him for, um, INVENTING THE LIGHT BULB and all. Tommy Boy and Joseph Swan actually battled it out death-match style on the invention of the light bulb (we all know who it really was), but it turned out that Mr. Edison here was the better businessman and capitalist. I mean, look at that face – doesn’t it just scream “you can make all the rules you want, I will make money in spite of them” on his face?
Tommy Edison was actually quite the inventor. He started out as a telegraph operator (apparently termed “brass pounder”) and persevered through some tough times financially to become the holder of almost 1100 patents. The motion picture camera, the “quadruplex” telegraph, the carbon microphone (in the first telephones) and, among many others, a patent for the “carbonized bamboo” filament. Joseph Swan was the first actual inventor of the electric lamp, but Edison’s design and research actually turned out a better, more efficient version. Edison’s bamboo filament was said to burn for over 1,200 hours. That’s more than some lamps I’ve bought at the store this year!
Big Tom Edison’s also accredited for the invention and design of the phonograph – the “record” player, for any of you crazy kids who don’t actually know what this is. (I wanted to cry when a young student in Arlington, TX asked me “what this thing is” while holding a turntable in her arms)
Check out a video of Edison reciting his first recording, a voicing of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” in 1927:
Also, another very, very hip video is Edison talking about his invention, the “electric light bulb” and its development:
One thing that Thomas Edison did that is essential to our development as a technically adept species was to implement and develop a mass-production system for industrial operations. That bit of knowledge he imparted to the industrial trades is revolutionary. He is also credited with creating the first industrial research laboratory, in Menlo Park, New Jersey. This place had a little bit of everything – Edison wanted to store some of “almost every conceivable material” in this place so that he and his people could invent freely with no inhibitions. The Menlo Park facility took two city blocks to house. Holy geekfest – that must have been almost as awesome as the Mythbusters Studios!
Edison’s Menlo Park lab:
To be fair, there are a couple of pretty un-awesome things that Edison did that are noteworthy, one of which led to the development of the electric chair. George Westinghouse was one of Edison’s competitors, and probably most well known for alternating current. Edison and Westinghouse had a pretty fierce and nasty battle over whose invention was better – direct current (Edison) or alternating current (Westinghouse). In the “War of Currents” that ensued, Tom Edison was so persistent on proving that Westinghouse’s AC was unsafe (regardless of the fact that it was actually better than his DC for long-distance distribution). Edison and his people publicly electrocuted animals to show that AC essentially killed them quickly. Yeah, Tommy, that wasn’t very cool of you, dude. One notable execution was Topsy the Elephant – a Coney Island attraction that killed three abusive handlers over the course of three years. Edison filmed this event – I didn’t feel good about embedding it in this post, so here’s a link to it, via a post about Topsy the Elephant. That video on the site is not terribly graphic or anything, but it’s freaky in its own right. I’d kill somebody that was abusing me like they did you, Topsy.
Topsy was electrocuted with a 6,600VAC source. Maybe AC triumphed over DC in the long run because of some bad karma Thomas brought on with his war on alternating current.
Thomas Edison was attributed with the following quote, which kinda cracks me up after reading the above research:
The dove is my emblem…. I want to save and advance human life, not destroy it…. I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill…
So, enough pointing out a man’s flaws on his birthday – thanks for all of the good things you did, Thomas Alva Edison! Just a few more things we can thank Tommy Boy here for (a non-exhaustive list):
- the fluoroscope (an x-ray that takes radioscopic images)
- the stock ticker (well, okay, but really who needs that?)
- the Lackawanna Railroad’s electric trains (Hoboken to Gladstone, Montclair, and Dover, NJ)
- Edison General Electric
- the printing telegraph
- Typewriting machines (and all kinds of associated parts and pieces)
- the magnetic ore separator
- brakes for electromagnetic motors
- a patent for preserving fruit
- governors for electric motors
- the telephone (and other related stuff)
- the arc lamp
- a gold extracting process from sulphide ores (random…)
- wireless telegraphy
Thanks Tommy! If you ever come back to life, I’m buying the first beer. If you come back to life as a zombie, I ain’t promising nothing.
Just as something to watch that explains a little more about Edison’s involvement with the Electric Chair, here’s a copy of The Pinky Show – “Thomas Edison Hates Cats.” There is a tiny clip of Topsy’s execution in there, so just be warned. The video is, however, presented by a talking cat: