Birth of Thomas Edison

U.S. #945 was issued for Edison’s 100th birthday.

Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio.

The youngest of seven children, Edison was the son of an exiled political activist from Canada. His mother, a schoolteacher, was a major influence on his life. Suffering from scarlet fever and ear infections as a child, Edison had poor hearing and was nearly deaf by adulthood.

U.S. #654 was issued to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first incandescent electric light.

Edison’s family moved to Port Huron, Michigan, in 1854, where he attended public school for 12 weeks. He was full of energy and had trouble paying attention, so his mother removed him from school and taught him at home. He developed a thirst for knowledge by age 11 and read books on a wide variety of subjects, becoming largely self-taught.

At just 12 years old, Edison took his first job, selling newspapers along the Grand Trunk Railroad line. He established his own newspaper, the Grand Trunk Herald, which included up-to-date articles that were a hit with commuters.   Edison also used his time on the train to conduct chemical experiments in a baggage car. However, when an experiment caused a chemical fire, he was kicked off the train and forced to sell his paper at the stations instead.

U.S. #655 – The “Edison’s First Light” stamp was issued in three formats – this is the rotary press printing.

During this time, Edison saved a three-year-old from being run over by a train. The child’s father rewarded Edison by teaching him how to use a telegraph. He was then able to take a job as a telegraph operator. He spent five years traveling through the Midwest filling in as a telegrapher for those who had left to fight in the Civil War. It was during this time that he began experimenting with telegraph technology and taught himself electrical science.

After the war, Edison briefly worked for the Associated Press, and then traveled to Boston to work for Western Union. There, he designed and patented an electronic voting recorder to help add up votes in the legislature. But the lawmakers didn’t want it because they preferred the votes be added slower to change people’s minds.

U.S. #656 – This is coil printing of the stamp above.

Edison moved to New York City in 1869 and created his first successful invention – the Universal Stock Printer – which synchronized multiple stock tickers’ transactions. He sold the rights for $40,000, quit his telegraphing job to become a full-time inventor, and set up his first small lab in Newark, New Jersey. There, he made improvements to the design of the typewriter in 1874. Before Edison’s improvements, people had been able to write faster by hand than by typing.

From 1876 to 1887, Edison invented in a workshop in Menlo Park, New Jersey. It was there, on October 19, 1879, that Edison created the first practical electric light. People all over the world quickly learned of this astounding accomplishment and the “Wizard of Menlo Park.” Edison also invented the phonograph – a precursor to the record player – which he considered his favorite invention, at Menlo Park.

Item #81920 – Commemorative cover marking the  142nd anniversary of Edison’s birth.

In 1887, Edison moved to a more modern laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey. There, he perfected many of his inventions from the 1870s and organized companies to sell his work. He also made improvements to the motion picture camera and created “talking pictures” by linking the phonograph and the motion picture camera. Edison’s later inventions include the storage battery, a cement mixer, the Dictaphone, and a duplicating machine.  Also during this time Edison built a winter home in Fort Myers, Florida. There Edison worked with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone in founding the Edison Botanical Research Corporation. His main goal was to find a local source for natural rubber. In the weeks before his death he claimed he was close to finding one.

Item #59730 – Coin cover marking Edison’s 157th birthday.

During his lifetime, Edison filed 1,093 patents. He died on October 18, 1931, as one of the most well-known and respected men in the world at that time.

Click here to see an extensive list of Edison’s patents. And click here to read more about some of his most famous inventions.

Click here to read last year’s discussion about This Day in History.

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    1. Almost all patens are the result of improving or changing others ideas. So den what is your beef. Be positive with the rest of the world!

  1. Edison was GRANTED 1093 patents; he applied for many more.
    As most patents, Edison patent were primarily for improvements to others patents or devices. The phonograph was a pure invention – sound had never been recorded before or conceived that it could be recorded.
    His first practical light bulb came only after many failed experiments over several years.

  2. Edison’s battery was (and is) radically different from the lead-acid battery which is widely used today in automobiles and devices that need a high amperage. His battery was an iron-base battery that produced a constant voltage and is still used with scientific instruments.

    I don’t believe that it is entirely fair to characterize him as an exploiter. Rather, he was the perfector of a number of inventions that were not commercially successful.

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