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Shining a Lamp on Thomas Edison

Aug 17, 2007
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) was truly a gift to mankind. His inventions profoundly helped to shape the modern world. His genius, insatiable curiosity and unstoppable persistence combined to bring us the incandescent electric light bulb, the telephone receiver, the microphone, the motion picture projector, the phonograph, the mimeograph, the dictating machine, the alkaline nickel-iron storage battery and so much more from his grand total of 1,093 patented inventions.

At age 10 he set up a chemical lab in his home and it wasn't long before he was operating a homemade telegraph set.

At 21 be became a free-lance inventor, soon earning a $40,000 fortune.

At 29 he opened a laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey and vowed that he'd create a minor invention every 10 days and a major one every 6 months. Soon he had 40 different projects going at once and was applying for as many as 400 patents per year. In the middle of all this he formed Edison Electric Light Company (now General Electric). By then he was a mere 31 years old.

His pursuit of the light bulb alone involved the testing of untold thousands of filament materials in order to find a long-burning conductor that would require the least electrical power.

The light bulb was invented simultaneously by Edison and by Britain's Sir Joseph Wilson Swan in 1879. Swan was first to actually construct a light bulb. But the additional challenge was that the filament had to be housed in an oxygen-free environment, and Swan had trouble maintaining a vacuum.

Edison achieved a few hours of light with a platinum filament in a glass vacuum bulb. "We are striking it big," Edison said. "Where this thing is going to stop, Lord only knows."

The thousands of filament materials that Edison tested included the carbonized filaments of some 6,000 living plants. "I ransacked the world for the most suitable filament material," he said after finally coming up with the one that started it all for the electric lamp.

Edison demonstrated the first carbon-filament lamp on October 21, 1879. And within no more than a year after that he had developed a 16-watt light bulb that could last for 1500 hours.

So the gas lamp faded into history, and Edison went on to bigger things. Within three years he had developed and installed the world's first large central electric power station in New York City. It rose as a contribution that facilitated the electrical illumination of entire cities in America and all over the world.

You can thank the extraordinary Thomas Edison whenever you switch on a lamp. Table lamps, floor lamps, desk lamps, porch lamps, garden lamps, street lamps, headlamps... we take them so for granted. But what would life be like without them?

No wonder America's Thomas Alva Edison received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1928 for "inventions that have revolutionized civilization in the last century."
About the Author
Copyright MBPCO 2006 and beyond. Elizabeth Miller is a professional freelance copywriter and a general partner in Miller Bridges Partners. For more information about lamps visit click here
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