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Who was Thomas Edison?

A biography by John D. Venable


“Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”

Thomas Edison


The man whose clothes were always wrinkled, whose hair was always tousled and who frequently lacked a shave probably did more than any other one man to influence the industrial civilization in which we live.  To him we owe the phonograph and motion picture which spice hours of leisure; the universal electric motor and the nickel-iron-alkaline storage battery with their numberless commercial uses; the magnetic ore separator, the fluorescent lamp, the basic principles of modern electronics.  Medicine thanks him for the fluoroscope, which he left to the public domain without patent. 


Chemical research follows the field he opened in his work on coal-tar derivatives, synthetic carbolic acid, and a source of natural rubber that can be grown in the United States.  His greatest contribution, perhaps, was the incandescent lamp – the germ from which sprouted the great power utility systems of our day…

​Although his formal education stopped at the age of 12, his whole life was consumed by a passion for self-education, and he was a moving force behind the establishment of a great scientific journal.  The number of patents – 1100 – far exceeds that of any other inventor.  And the 2500 notebooks in which he recorded the progress of thousands of experiments are still being gleaned of unused material.  Once, asked in what his interests lay, Edison smilingly responded, ‘Everything.’ If we ask ourselves where the fruits of his life are seen, we might well answer, ‘Everywhere.’”

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