A Brief Biography of Thomas Alva Edison
Young Tom's First Laboratory
Most of Edison's vast knowledge was acquired through independent study and training.
At the age of eleven, for example, he had his own chemical laboratory in the cellar of his Port Huron home and had
read such books as Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," Sears' "History of the World," Burton's "Anatomy
of Melancholy," and the "Dictionary of Sciences."
At twelve, his parents permitted him to take a job as newsboy and candy "butcher" on the
train of the Grand Trunk Railroad running from Port Huron to Detroit. In this, his first job, Edison exhibited a knack
for business and an ambition that far exceeded that of the average boy of his years. He maintained a chemical laboratory
in the train's baggage car, which also served to house a printing press on which young Edison ran off copies of "The
Weekly Herald," the first newspaper ever edited, published and printed aboard a moving train. In addition, he became a
middle-man for fresh vegetables and fruit, buying from the farmers along the route and selling to Detroit markets.
When only thirteen years old, he was earning several dollars a day, a tidy sum even for a
man in that period. Already he was putting into practice a theory followed through his life - that hard work and sound
thinking recognize no substitutes.
One of the most widely known stories about Edison is the one which attributes his deafness
to a quick-tempered trainman who soundly boxed his ears when Edison's traveling laboratory caused a fire to break out
in the baggage car.
Only part of the tale is true: the fire broke out and the trainman boxed his ears, but
Edison himself never believed his deafness resulted from this incident. He traced it to a later occasion when another
trainman thoughtlessly picked him up by the ears to help him aboard a train that was pulling out of a station.
It was during this period that a dramatic incident occurred which altered the entire course
of Edison's career and which, therefore, may well have also altered the course of world progress. At Mt. Clemens, Michigan,
the young Edison risked his own life to save the station agent's little boy from death under a moving freight car. The
grateful father taught him telegraphy as a reward. Edison's association with telegraphy brought to a climax his interest
in electricity - a word with which the name of Edison was to become inseparably associated - and led him into studies and
experiments which resulted in some of the world's greatest inventions.