Thomas Alva Edison

Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005


Astro-Rayological Interpretation & Charts
Images and Physiognomic Interpretation

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  Thomas Alva Edison—Inventor

February 12, 1847, Milan Ohio, 00:19 AM, died, October 18, 1931, Orange, NJ.  (Source: Rectification of Edison’s chart by Bernadette Brady, in The Eagle and the Lark)    

(Ascendant, Scorpio; Sun in Aquarius, conjuncted to Mercury and Neptune also in Aquarius {but Mercury and Neptune are not conjunct except by translation of light}; Moon conjunct Mars in Capricorn (earlier charts suggest a Sagittarian Moon); Venus conjunct Saturn in Pisces; Jupiter in Gemini; Uranus and Pluto in Aries)           

The time of birth for Thomas Edison is ambiguous. The following account from Astro Data Bank gives various alternatives:   

Wilsons send on a letter to Buell Huggins from L.J. Russell, curator of the Edison Museum referring the question of Edison's birth time to his daughter, Mrs. John E. Sloan.  She said her father’s birth was probably 1:00 to 2:00 AM.  Leo in the Astrology Magazine, 1890, gives 11:33 PM ‘from his father in 1878 to a pupil of Chaney's’. Sabian Symbols No.312 gives 11:38 PM.  PC quotes Sabian Symbols No.312 for 11:55 PM. LMR quotes biographer Jones  in ‘Edison’ (1907, p.1) ‘a cold day in February’.  A description continues of how his father watched the busy street while waiting for his child's birth as wagons were carrying wheat to the canal for shipment."  (Literary license or perhaps 1:30 PM?)      

Because the birth (from most accounts) took place a short time before or within two hours after midnight, there is a reasonable question concerning which day it really way—February 11th or 12th. If the early morning of the 11th, then the Moon is in Sagittarius. If shortly before midnight on the 11th or within two hours after midnight on the 12th, the Moon will be in Capricorn. A close examination of Edison’s life and character favors (in the opinion of the author) the Capricorn Moon. Edison was deeply into matter, which the Capricorn Moon represents, and his physiognomy, as well, suggests the potency of Capricorn rather than the more jaunty Sagittarius. (Of course, it must be acknowledged that, given a Scorpio Ascendant, the ruling planet Mars would be placed in Capricorn, giving a strong Capricornian quality to the life.         

When one is forced to choose between the 11:33 PM, 11:55 PM on the 11th  and 12:19 AM on the 12th  (given by Bernadette Brady), the 12:19 time is most convincing. In the 11:33 and 11:55 charts, there are simply too many planets in the fourth house and none in the third (a house having so much to do with Edison’s earliest career, telegraphy, and with the process of mental or inventive conception, in general). The 12:19 AM chart places both Mercury (in Aquarius) and the Sun (in Aquarius) in the third house, but places the Sun close enough to the fourth house cusp to conjunct it—accounting for the various laboratories of ‘homes for research and development’ which Edison established.

Edison, one of the most inspired and productive inventors of his time, received only three months of formal schooling. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Capricorn on the cusp of the third house and its ruler, Saturn, in the house of its “fall”, the fourth, conjunct the planet of “light”, Venus. And yet, as a compensation, Edison became a voracious and omnivorous reader (Mercury, the planet of reading and information processing, in the sign of universality, Aquarius). Surely we would need to find Mercury in the third house to explain his tremendous, self-motivated absorption of information. A fourth house Mercury, would not account for this trait.    

As for the chart Some twenty-two or twenty three hours earlier (in the wee hours of the 11th), there is no fourth house emphasis, and the planet of research, Pluto, moves from the Virgo-related sixth house to the Leo-related fifth. Edison’s delving into the secrets of matter, and the many technical innovations and improvement which he offered as a result, suit far more the sixth house Pluto than the fifth.         

The 12:19 AM chart also offers a series of convincing transits, progressions, directions and eclipses (some of which will be mentioned in the analysis below),  which correlate favorably with the events of his life. So for purposes of this examination, it will be used. Perhaps, however, the most important factor in determining as usable chart for Thomas Edison is to preserve the Scorpio Ascendant, and, fortunately, all the proposed charts do that.

Edison’s early deafness (due to a family tendency toward mastoiditis) is another subtle confirmation of the Scorpio Ascendant, remembering Scorpio’s relationship to Taurus which rules the ears and hearing. We have but to think of Beethoven (another instance of a probable Scorpio Ascendant) in relation to his deafness. In neither case was the initial disease a disease of the ear, but in each case the result lead to hearing loss and eventual complete or near complete deafness.       

Thomas Edison was the greatest inventor of the modern world. The phonograph, the motion-picture projector, the electric light (the first commercially practical incandescent lamp with a carbon filament), the microphone (or carbon telephone transmitter), a talking motion picture —these are just a few of his many inventions. His life was an example of the arduous, severe yet revelatory toil archetypally associated with the fifth ray—the ray of discovery and of the practical application of that which is discovered.

The words from the fifth ray commentary on the Law of Repulse fit so well:           

“Deep in a pyramid, on all sides built around by stone, in the deep dark of that stupendous place, a mind and brain (embodied in a man) were working.  Outside the pyramid, the world of God established itself.  The sky was blue; the winds blew free; the trees and flowers opened themselves unto the sun.  But in the pyramid, down in its dim laboratory, a Worker stood, toiling at work.  His test tubes and his frail appliances he used with skill.  In rows and rows, the retorts for fusing, and for blending, for crystallising and for that which sought division, stood with their flaming fires.  The heat was great.  The toil severe....” (EP II 169)              

The Tibetan has this to say about servers upon the fifth ray:           

“They gather into their ranks those whose personalities are on this ray and train them in the art of scientific investigation.  From the sensed spiritual ideas, lying behind the form side of manifestation, from the many discoveries in the ways of God with man and nature, from the inventions (which are but materialised ideas) and from the witness to the Plan which law portrays, they are preparing that new world in which men will work and live a more deeply conscious, spiritual life.” (EP I 143)      

Clearly, Thomas Edison, was one of the archetypes of the fifth ray soul, just as Joan of Arc was archetypal of the sixth. If we look for conduits for the fifth ray, we must note, particularly, the Sun and Mercury (a principle planet of intelligence) both placed in fifth ray Aquarius and both in the third house of mind. In one respect, the third house must be considered ‘friendly’ to the fifth ray, and Mercury, itself, is a profoundly fifth ray planet (its monad may be focussed upon the fifth ray).

Scorpio (the presumed Ascendant) is ruled by Mars (ruler, from one perspective of the mind and science) and by Pluto, with its clearly demonstrated power of research (especially in one of the houses friendly to research, such as the sixth. The already concrete Mars (placed in material Capricorn) is made still more concrete by the close sextile from the planet of physicality, Saturn, found in the fourth. Pluto is conjunct the South Node (showing depth of approach developed in the past) and sextile to the midpoint of the Sun/Neptune conjunction in Aquarius.

Sun Neptune is imaginative and intuitive (in this case, with respect to the “rain-cloud of knowable things” from which the inventor draws his ideas) and Pluto adds penetrating insight into matter—the power to “see through” matter and understand how it can be used to concretely apply that which has been envisioned. There was surely something of the inspired intuitive and dreamer in Edison. The actual fifth ray planet, Venus, is in the sign of its exaltation, relating more the realm of love and compassion, but it too, is rendered more concrete and material by the conjunction with Saturn, also in Pisces.

Uranus, as well has, an important fifth ray component and is the planet most associated with electricity (with which fifth ray types are so often associated). Interestingly, Uranus is the in the fifth house which children are symbolized, including, the children of one’s mind (brain child)—an excellent placement for an inventor who seeks to draw upon the creativity stored in his causal body (H5) and apply that creativity in ingenious ways. Of further interest is that Uranus (the orthodox ruler of his Aquarius Sun and dispositor of his Aquarius Mercury) is conjunct the asteroid Pallas Athene, which is considered so intelligent, resourceful and capable of multiple approaches to the solution of any problem. This conjunction certainly enhances his inventive abilities.     

It is said that Edison’s temperament was that of an uninhibited egoist and that his manners were often gruff and even tyrannical (and yet he could be humorous and entertaining—one of the effects, perhaps, of his close square between jovial Jupiter in light-hearted Gemini, and pleasant Venus is kindly Pisces). Astrologically there is much first ray in his chart and is quite likely that this is his personality ray. Uranus and Pluto (both first ray planets) are placed in the first ray sign, Aries, and Uranus in the fifth house which has resonance with the first ray.

Mars, the exoteric and esoteric ruler of the chart, also has its first ray component, and is placed in the sign Capricorn which is an important distributor of the first ray. The Moon also tenants this first ray sign. The Ascending sign, Scorpio, cannot be overlooked as a conduit for the first ray, for Scorpio is Hercules’ sign, and it would seem that one of the rays which passes through this sign is the first.

Personally, Edison had  a number of first ray characteristics. He could certainly work alone, with incredible persistence (a first ray quality—“I still persist”)—though his Aquarian nature added a definite affiliativeness and love of working in small teams. Certainly, his stamina was remarkable; he worked ceaselessly, with hardly any respite except the short catnaps under the stair for which he became famous. This quality to slip out of the body at a moment’s notice, may well have related to Neptune (the planet of exit and escape) conjunct the Sun and even more closely conjunct the IC (which might be considered, as the ‘midnight’ point of the chart, the ‘point of sleep’—opposite the MC which represents the full light of day, noon. He also possessed tremendous positivity and confidence—an intrepid “can-do” attitude. It seems he was almost incapable of giving up—a trait which will be recognized as evidence of the first ray. Often he plunged ahead (first ray) when more conventionally prudent men would have demurred, later proving through success that the risk was well-justified.      

We have all heard stories of Edison’s amazing persistence, his relentless dedication to the trial and error method. The tenacious energies of Scorpio (one of his proposed Ascendants) and of hard and hardy Capricorn (both his Mars and Moon) combined with the fifth ray (and the first) to strengthen this persistence, this refusal to admit defeat in the process of discovery and application.

We must remember that Mars would be the esoteric ruler of his Ascendant and that in its exalted position in Capricorn it represents the conquest of matter. When perhaps a thousand substances had been tried unsuccessfully in order to create the filament for the electric light, rather than consider these attempt as failures, he said, almost triumphantly, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Considered one of the great geniuses of American society, he had the following humorous (and sobering) comment (so closely related to the persistence of the first ray): “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration.”

Of speculative interest is the placement of Edison’s Part of Fortune (in the 30th degree of Sagittarius in the chart here used) and Mars in the second degree of Capricorn, both conjunct the Anti-Vertex. Much is said about the Vertex as a point of fate or inevitability. Perhaps the Vertex represents the opposite—a place of unconditioned, uninhibited freedom. To see a sensitive point (the Part of Fortune) representing ease of Solar-Lunar flow conducive to happiness, resting on this point, and also his ruling planet Mars in the material sign Capricorn, one is impressed by the idea of the great joy (Part of Fortune) Edison took in conquering (Mars) matter (Capricorn). This conjunction on the Anti-Vertex is another astrological correlation to the tremendous courage and positivity he showed in the face of the darkness of ignorance—whether his own or that of those who told him he could not succeed.     

It is hard to conceive of his mind without thinking also of the fifth ray (though the Tibetan seems to suggest that having the same ray for the soul and the mind is not common). Among the Tibetan’s disciples there were some who had this commonalty. In any case, Edison was forever observing, questioning and solving the problems involved with how to “make things work”.        

Emotionally, he was dedicated and devoted to his task. It is reasonable to presume a sixth ray astral body, driving him forward, filling him with the belief that what others considered impossible was possible, indeed.           

Physically, he was no lover of order. He dressed carelessly and organized poorly. He was no manager (as the seventh ray conceives management) and there was very little of what one could call regularity or rhythm in his physical approach. He simply drove himself relentlessly, without pauses for rest. We must assume the third ray as the ray qualifying the etheric/physical vehicle, perhaps strengthened by the first ray personality.

Edison, the true Aquarian, was a man of the future. He touched the secrets of the Divine Mind and made them real, manifest. His Jupiter in Gemini conferred an abundance of thought, a plenitude of ideas. Uranus (the planet of invention) was placed in Aries (the sign of all that is new), and in the Scorpio rising chart, in the fifth house of creativity. This wresting of ideas from matter, from Nature, was Edison’s form of creativity. The Scorpionic energy reveals the mysteries—given the ability to focus the mind intensely (fifth ray soul), and the persistence to hold that focus (first ray).

First ray Pluto (co-ruler of his proposed Scorpio Ascendant, and the planet of research just as Uranus is the planet of invention) is also in Aries, and harmoniously related (sextile) to his Aquarian Sun. Pluto’s position in the sixth house increases the capacity to wrest the secrets of Nature from the material world. Uranus (exalted in Scorpio) and Pluto (a ruler) can both be considered first ray planets as well, placed in Aries, a first ray sign; after Edison, the world was never the same—especially in terms of its light content and in relation to the field of communication and the transmission of experience. There is some relevance here in the fact that the Fifth Ray Lord is the most luminous of all the Ray Lords. Thomas Edison, who one might consider something of an agent of this Fifth Ray Lord, carried this luminosity to the world. 

It is interesting so see so many planets gathered at the base of the chart, conjuncting or near the Aquarian IC. In Menlo Park, New Jersey, Edison established a kind of research community (a home for scientific inquiry and invention); in Menlo Park he could focus uninterruptedly on his invaluable research.  

Edison’s life was one of great toil. Yes, he had a personal life—two marriages (Jupiter in duple Gemini in the house of marriage) and the death of his first wife (Saturn natally conjunct Venus, the exoteric ruler of the seventh house). That death occurred when Edison’s progressed Sun had reached the very last degrees and minutes of the sign Pisces—the end of a cycle. He also had his fair share of miscalculations (Neptune conjunct the Sun—high hopes and unrealistic thinking, and Saturn square Jupiter, the dampening of great possibilities by reality).

He had six children (Jupiter, ruler of the fifth house in multiple Gemini, and Mars, co-ruler of the fifth, conjunct both Juno and the Moon), though this did not necessarily make him a good father, for he was said to be both gruff and distracted (Neptune and Saturn both in the fourth house of home). It could be said that he was a man of strong personal appetites; his ruling planet Mars (conjunct Juno the asteroid of marriage and relationship, and the Moon, a planet of the feminine nature) all in the sign of the “Goat”, Capricorn, and in the second house which rules desire and the instinctual nature—these placements would confirm the strength of the physical, sexual, passional nature.   

Again, it becomes important to look at Mars and the Moon together from another perspective—in relation to Edison’s status as a disciple or initiate. What are the characteristics of an initiate upon the fifth ray, and if they can be ascertained, did Edison fulfill them? Certainly, his contribution to humanity was immense and all of our lives are immeasurably enriched and illumined because of his labors. Although he was involved in many financial schemes and dealings, he real love was discovery, and everyone benefited from his drive to discover and apply ever more.

Something of the immensity of his gifts to humanity can be judged by the number of his patents, and these only in certain areas: 389 for electric light and power, 195 for the phonograph, 150 for the telegraph, 141 for storage batteries, and 34 for the telephone.     

Was this man an initiate? We might ask the meaning of Mars conjunct the Moon, one of the signposts of the third initiation. Certainly this conjunction gave him a tremendous and unrelenting drive in relation to the material world and the ideas which could be expressed through it. But did the conjunction also signal the opportunity for the third initiation, seeing the Moon as the veil for Vulcan (with Saturn one of the Lords of the material world and of the Mineral Kingdom, particularly)?

Clearly he was a worker in the fifth ray Ashram. A number of powerful Ashramic workers do not know their true source and affiliations. As a good fifth ray he may have been skeptical with respect to intangible or other-worldly possibilities, and outwardly it may have seemed that he disbelieved, but his last words on his death bed were said to be, “It’s very beautiful over there.”


Anything that won't sell, I don't want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.
(Moon in Capricorn in 2nd house)

Be courageous! Have faith! Go Forward!

Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!
(Mars in Capricorn)

Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.

Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits.
(Uranus in Aries)

Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.

Great ideas originate in the muscles.

Hell, there are no rules here - we're trying to accomplish something.

His genius he was quite content in one brief sentence to define; Of inspiration one percent, of perspiration, ninety nine.

I am proud of the fact that I never invented weapons to kill.
(Sun & Neptune in Aquarius)

I find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.

I have friends in overalls whose friendship I would not swap for the favor of the kings of the world.
(Sun in Aquarius; Jupiter in Gemini in 7th house)

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
(Moon conjunct Mars in Capricorn; Pluto & Uranus in Aries)

I know this world is ruled by infinite intelligence. Everything that surrounds us- everything that exists - proves that there are infinite laws behind it. There can be no denying this fact. It is mathematical in its precision.
(Venus in Pisces)

I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun.

I never did anything by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work.

I start where the last man left off.

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

It is astonishing what an effort it seems to be for many people to put their brains definitely and systematically to work.
(Sun & Mercury in 3rd house)

Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.

Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Maturity is often more absurd than youth and very frequently is most unjust to youth.

Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged.
(Vulcan conjunct Sun & Neptune in Aquarius)

Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.
(Venus in Pisces; Sun in Aquarius)

One might think that the money value of an invention constitutes its reward to the man who loves his work. But... I continue to find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

Religion is all bunk.

Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.
(Scorpio Ascendant)

Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work.

The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.

The body is a community made up of its innumerable cells or inhabitants.

The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around.

The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work.

The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.

The value of an idea lies in the using of it.

There is far more opportunity than there is ability.

There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.

There is no substitute for hard work.

There will one day spring from the brain of science a machine or force so fearful in its potentialities, so absolutely terrifying, that even man, the fighter, who will dare torture and death in order to inflict torture and death, will be appalled, and so abandon war forever.
(Sun in Aquarius)

There's a way to do it better - find it.
(Uranus in Aries)

They say President Wilson has blundered. Perhaps he has, but I notice he usually blunders forward.

To have a great idea, have a lot of them.
(Mercury in 3rd house)

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
(Uranus in 5th house)

To my mind the old masters are not art; their value is in their scarcity.

Waste is worse than loss. The time is coming when every person who lays claim to ability will keep the question of waste before him constantly. The scope of thrift is limitless.

We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything.

What a man's mind can create, man's character can control.

What you are will show in what you do.

When I have fully decided that a result is worth getting I go ahead of it and make trial after trial until it comes.

Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have. n.html

The inventor tries to meet the demand of a crazy civilization.

Oh my, it's very beautiful over there.
Famous Last Words

All Bibles are man-made

Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.

I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.

There is always a better way.

I shall make electricity so cheap that only the rich can afford to burn candles

We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb

I do not believe that any type of religion should ever be introduced into the public schools of the United States

The perils of overwork are slight compared with the dangers of inactivity

The first step is an intuition and it comes with a burst, then difficulties arise - this thing gives out and then that - 'Bugs' - as such little faults and difficulties are called - show themselves…

Keep on the lookout for novel ideas that others have used successfully. Your idea has to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you're working on.

I am long on ideas, but short on time. I expect to live to be only about a hundred.

I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God

The ideas I use are mostly the ideas of people who don't develop them

Not only will atomic power be released, but someday we will harness the rise and fall of the tides and imprison the rays of the sun

You can't realize your dreams unless you have one to begin with.


Thomas Alva Edison

Born: February 11, 1847
Milan, Ohio, United States
Died: October 18, 1931
West Orange, New Jersey, United States
Occupation: Inventor, entrepreneur
Spouse: Mary Edison, Mina Edison

Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) was an American inventor and businessman who developed many devices which greatly influenced life in the 20th century. Dubbed "The Wizard of Menlo Park" by a newspaper reporter, he was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production to the process of invention, and can therefore be credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory. Some of the inventions attributed to him were not completely original but amounted to improvements of earlier inventions or were actually created by numerous employees working under his direction. Nevertheless, Edison is considered one of the most prolific inventors in history, holding 1,097 U.S. patents in his name, as well as many patents in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

Early life
Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, the seventh child of Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr. (1804–1896) (born in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, Canada) and the former Nancy Matthews Elliott (1810–1871). His family was of Dutch origin.[1] Thomas Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, the seventh child of Samuel Ogden Edison, Jr.(1804-1896)(born in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, Canada) and the former Nancy Matthews Elliott (1810-1871). His family was of Dutch origin. His mind often wandered and his teacher the Reverend Engle was overheard calling him "addled". This ended Edison's three months of formal schooling. His mother had been a school teacher in Canada and happily took over the job of schooling her son. She encouraged and taught him to read and experiment. He recalled later, "My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint."[2] Many of his lessons came from reading R.G. Parker's School of Natural Philosophy. Edison became hard of hearing at the age of twelve. There are many theories of what caused this; according to Edison he went deaf because he was pulled up to a train car by his ears.[3]

Edison's life in Port Huron, Michigan was bittersweet. He sold candy and newspapers on trains running from Port Huron to Detroit. Partially deaf since adolescence, he became a telegraph operator after he saved Jimmie Mackenzie from being struck by a runaway train. Jimmie's father, station agent J.U. Mackenzie of Mount Clemens, Michigan, was so grateful that he took Edison under his wing and trained him as a telegraph operator. Edison's deafness aided him as it blocked out noises and prevented Edison from hearing the telegrapher sitting next to him. One of his mentors during those early years was a fellow telegrapher and inventor named Franklin Leonard Pope, who allowed the then impoverished youth to live and work in the basement of his Elizabeth, New Jersey home.

Some of his earliest inventions related to electrical telegraphy, including a stock ticker. Edison applied for his first patent, the electric vote recorder, on October 28, 1868.

Marriages and children
On December 25, 1871, Edison married the then 16 year old Mary Stilwell whom he had met two months earlier. They had three children,

Marion "Dot" Estelle Edison (1873–1965)
Thomas "Dash" Alva Edison, Jr (1876–1935)
William Leslie Edison (1878–1935)
Mary Edison died on August 9 1884.

On February 24, 1886, at the age of thirty-nine, Edison married 19-year-old Mina Miller in Akron, Ohio. They also had three children:

Madeleine Edison (1888–1979)
Charles Edison (1890–1969), who took over the company upon his father's death and who later was elected Governor of New Jersey)
Theodore Edison (1898–1992)
Mina died on August 24, 1947 and outlived Thomas Edison.

Beginning his career
Thomas Edison began his career as an inventor in Newark, New Jersey, with the automatic repeater and his other improved telegraphic devices, but the invention which first gained him fame was the phonograph in 1877. This accomplishment was so unexpected by the public at large as to appear almost magical. Edison became known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park," New Jersey, where he lived. His first phonograph recorded on tinfoil cylinders that had low sound quality and destroyed the track during replay so that one could listen only a few times. In the 1880s, a redesigned model using wax-coated cardboard cylinders was produced by Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell, and Charles Tainter. This was one reason that Thomas Edison continued work on his own "Perfected Phonograph."

Thomas Edison was a freethinker, and was most likely a deist, claiming he did not believe in "the God of the theologians", but did not doubt that "there is a Supreme Intelligence". He is quoted, "I believe that the science of chemistry alone almost proves the existence of an intelligent creator." However, he rejected the idea of the supernatural, along with such ideas as the soul, immortality, and a personal God. "Nature", he said, "is not merciful and loving, but wholly merciless, indifferent."[4]

Menlo Park
U.S. Patent #223898 Electric LampEdison's major innovation was the first industrial research lab, which was built in Menlo Park, New Jersey. It was the first institution set up with the specific purpose of producing constant technological innovation and improvement. Edison was legally attributed with most of the inventions produced there, though many employees carried out research and development work under his direction.

William Joseph Hammer, a consulting electrical engineer, began his duties as a laboratory assistant to Edison in December 1879. He assisted in experiments on the telephone, phonograph, electric railway, iron ore separator, electric lighting, and other developing inventions. However, Hammer worked primarily on the incandescent electric lamp and was put in charge of tests and records on that device. In 1880 he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Edison Lamp Works. In his first year, the plant under general manager Francis Robbins Upton turned out 50,000 lamps. According to Edison, Hammer was "a pioneer of incandescent electric lighting."

Most of Edison's patents were utility patents, which during Edison's lifetime protected for a 17 year period inventions or processes that are electrical, mechanical, or chemical in nature. About a dozen were design patents, which protect an ornamental design for a 14 year period. Like most inventions, his were not typically completely original, but improvements to prior art. The phonograph patent, on the other hand, was unprecedented as the first device to record and reproduce sounds. Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, but instead invented the first commercially practical incandescent light. Several designs had already been developed by earlier inventors including the patent he purchased from Henry Woodward and Mathew Evans, Moses G. Farmer,[5] Joseph Swan, James Bowman Lindsay, William Sawyer, Sir Humphry Davy, and Heinrich Göbel. Some of these early bulbs had such flaws as extremely short life, high expense to produce, and high current draw, making them difficult to apply on a large scale commercially. In 1878, Edison applied the term filament to the element of glowing wire carrying the current, although English inventor Joseph Swan had used the term prior to this. Edison took the features of these earlier designs and set his workers to the task of creating longer-lasting bulbs. By 1879, he had produced a new concept: a high resistance lamp in a very high vacuum, which would burn for hundreds of hours. While the earlier inventors had produced electric lighting in laboratory conditions dating back to a demonstration of a glowing wire by Alessandro Volta in 1800, Edison concentrated on commercial application and was able to sell the concept to homes and businesses by mass-producing relatively long-lasting light bulbs and creating a complete system for the generation and distribution of electricity.

The Menlo Park research lab was made possible by the sale of the quadruplex telegraph that Edison invented in 1874, which could send four simultaneous telegraph signals over the same wire. When Edison asked Western Union to make an offer, he was shocked at the unexpectedly large amount that Western Union offered; the patent rights were sold for $10,000. The quadruplex telegraph was Edison's first big financial success.

In 1878, Edison formed the Edison Electric Light Company in New York City with several financiers, including J. P. Morgan and the Vanderbilt families. Edison made the first public demonstration of his incandescent light bulb on December 31, 1879, in Menlo Park. On January 27, 1880, he filed a patent in the United States for the electric incandescent lamp; it was during this time that he said, "We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles."[6]

On October 8, 1883, the U.S. patent office ruled that Edison's patent was based on the work of William Sawyer and was therefore invalid. Litigation continued for nearly six years, until October 6, 1889, when a judge ruled that Edison's electric light improvement claim for "a filament of carbon of high resistance" was valid. To avoid a possible court battle with Joseph Swan, whose English patent had been awarded a year before Edisons, he and Swan formed a joint company called Ediswan to market the invention in Britain.

Other designs for a light bulb included Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla's idea of utilizing radio frequency waves emitted (in the Tesla effect) from the side electrode plates to light a wireless bulb. He also developed plans to light a bulb with only one wire with the energy refocused back into the center of the bulb by the glass envelope with a center "button" to emit an incandescent glow. Edison's design won out during this time, although Tesla did go on to invent fluorescent lighting.

Edison patented an electric distribution system in 1880, which was critical to capitalize on the invention of the electric lamp. The first investor-owned electric utility was the 1882 Pearl Street Station, New York City. On September 4, 1882, Edison switched on the world's first electrical power distribution system, providing 110 volts direct current (DC) to 59 customers in lower Manhattan, around his Pearl Street generating station. On January 19, 1883, the first standardized incandescent electric lighting system employing overhead wires began service in Roselle, New Jersey.

Despite Edison's contempt for capital punishment, the war against AC led Edison to become involved in the development and promotion of the electric chair as a demonstration of AC's greater lethal potential versus the "safer" DC. Edison went on to carry out a brief but intense campaign to ban the use of AC or to limit the allowable voltage for safety purposes. As part of this campaign, Edison's employees publicly electrocuted dogs, cats, and in one case, an elephant[7] to demonstrate the dangers of AC. AC replaced DC in most instances of generation and power distribution, enormously extending the range and improving the efficiency of power distribution. Though widespread use of DC ultimately lost favor for distribution, it exists today primarily in long-distance high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission systems. Low voltage DC distribution continued to be used in high density downtown areas for many years and was replaced by AC low voltage network distribution in many central business districts. DC had the advantage that large battery banks could maintain continuous power through brief interruptions of the electric supply from generators and the transmission system. Utilities such as Commonwealth Edison in Chicago had rotary converters which could change DC to AC and AC to various frequencies in the early to mid 20th century. Utilities supplied rectifiers to convert the low voltage AC to DC for such DC load as elevators, fans and pumps. There were still 1600 DC customers in downtown New York City when the service was discontinued in 2005.

Work relations
Frank J. Sprague, a competent mathematician and former naval officer, was recruited by Edward H. Johnson, and joined the Edison organization in 1883. One of Sprague's significant contributions to the Edison Laboratory at Menlo Park was to expand Edison's mathematical methods. (Despite the common belief that Edison did not use mathematics, analysis of his notebooks reveal that he was an astute user of mathematical analysis, for example, determining the critical parameters of his electric lighting system including lamp resistance by a sophisticated analysis of Ohm's Law, Joule's Law and economics.) A key to Edison's success was a holistic rather than reductionist approach to invention, making extensive use of trial and error when no suitable theory existed. (See Edisonian approach). Since Sprague joined Edison in 1883 and Edison's output of patents peaked in 1880 it could be interpreted that the shift towards a reductionist analytical approach may not have been a positive move for Edison. Sprague's important analytical contributions, including correcting Edison's system of mains and feeders for central station distribution, form a counter argument to this. In 1884, Sprague decided his interests in the exploitation of electricity lay elsewhere, and he left Edison to found the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company. However, Sprague, who later developed many electrical innovations, always credited Edison for their work together.

Another of Edison's assistants was Nikola Tesla who claimed that Edison promised him $50,000 if he succeeded in making improvements to his DC generation plants. Several months later, when he had finished the work and asked to be paid, Tesla claimed that Edison said, "When you become a full-fledged American you will appreciate an American joke".[8] Tesla immediately resigned. This anecdote is somewhat doubtful, since at Tesla's salary of $18 per week the bonus would have amounted to over 53 years pay, and the amount was equal to the initial capital of the company. Tesla resigned when he was refused a raise to $25 per week (Jonnes, p110). Although Tesla accepted an Edison Medal later in life and professed a high opinion of Edison as an inventor and engineer, he remained bitter. The day after Edison died the New York Times contained extensive coverage of Edison's life, with the only negative opinion coming from Tesla who was quoted as saying, "He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene" and that, "His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense." When Edison was a very old man and close to death, he said, in looking back, that the biggest mistake he had made was that he never respected Tesla or his work.[9]

Media inventions
The key to Edison's fortunes was telegraphy. With knowledge gained from years of working as a telegraph operator, he learned the basics of electricity. This allowed him to make his early fortune with the stock ticker, the first electricity-based broadcast system. Edison patented the sound recording and reproducing phonograph (or gramophone in British English) in 1878. Edison also holds the patent for the motion picture camera, although the invention itself was the work of Edison's British employee, W.K. Dickson. In 1891, Thomas Edison built a Kinetoscope, or peep-hole viewer. This device was installed in penny arcades, where people could watch short, simple films.

On August 9, 1892, Edison received a patent for a two-way telegraph. In April 1896, Thomas Armat's Vitascope, manufactured by the Edison factory and marketed in Edison's name, was used to project motion pictures in public screenings in New York City. Later he exhibited motion pictures with voice soundtrack on cylinder recordings, mechanically synchronized with the film. In 1908 Edison started the Motion Picture Patents Company, which was a conglomerate of nine major film studios (commonly known as the Edison Trust). Thomas Edison was the first honorary fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, which was founded in 1929.

Later years
Ft. Myers, Florida, February 11, 1929.Edison became the owner of his Milan, Ohio, birthplace in 1906, and, on his last visit, in 1923, he was shocked to find his old home still lit by lamps and candles. Influenced by a fad diet that was popular in the day, in his last few years "he consumed nothing more than a pint of milk every three hours".[10] He believed this diet would restore his health.

Edison was active in business right up to the end. Just months before his death in 1931, the Lackawanna Railroad implemented electric trains in suburban service from Hoboken to Gladstone, Montclair and Dover in New Jersey. Transmission was by means of an overhead catenary system, with the entire project under the guidance of Thomas Edison. To the surprise of many, Thomas Edison was at the throttle of the very first MU (Multiple-Unit) train to depart Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken, driving the train all the way to Dover. As another tribute to his lasting legacy, the very same fleet of cars Edison deployed on the Lackawanna in 1931 served commuters until their retirement in 1984. A special plaque commemorating the joint achievement of both the railway and Edison, can be seen today in the waiting room of Lackawanna Terminal in Hoboken, presently operated by New Jersey Transit.

Edison purchased a home known as "Glenmont" in 1886 as a wedding gift for Mina in Llewellyn Park in West Orange, New Jersey. The remains of Edison and his wife, Mina, are now buried there. The 13.5 acre (55,000 m²) property is maintained by the National Park Service as the Edison National Historic Site. Thomas Edison died on October 18, 1931, in New Jersey at the age of 84. His final words to his wife were "It is very beautiful over there."[11] Mina died in 1947. Edison's last breath is purportedly contained in a test tube at the Henry Ford Museum. Ford reportedly convinced Charles Edison to seal a test tube of air in the inventor's room shortly after his death, as a memento. A plaster death mask was also made.

In the 1880s, Thomas Edison bought property in Fort Myers, Florida, and built Seminole Lodge as a winter retreat. Henry Ford, the automobile magnate, later lived a few hundred feet away from Edison at his winter retreat, The Mangoes. Edison even contributed technology to the automobile. They were friends until Edison's death.

Although in his early years Edison worked alone, he built up a research and development team to a considerable number while at his Menlo Park research laboratory. This large research group, which included engineers and other workers, often based their research on work done by others before them, as is true of all research and development. Many have claimed that when his staff succeeded, he presented the inventions as his own and got the credit for them as they were patented in his name.[citation needed] His staff generally carried out his directions in conducting research, and when he was absent from the lab, the pace of work slowed greatly. Other inventors had worked on the development of an incandescent light bulb before Edison invented the first which was commercially practical. He is commonly credited as its inventor, even though a number of employees also worked on the device under his direction. His was the first incandescent light bulb with high resistance, a small radiating area, and a commercially useful lifetime. Other critics have claimed that he put obstacles in the way of his competitors, and used other methods which were ethically questionable, even if their technology was superior to what was created by his own workers.[citation needed]

Thomas Edison made an electric light bulb and said that in six weeks, he would have a light bulb industry and would be generating electricity from Niagara Falls.[citation needed] Investors, including JP Morgan, invested large amounts of money in Edison's scheme. The breakthrough came in the fourteenth month when they finally found material suitable for use as a filament. They put lights around Menlo Park and lots of people came to see them. After two years, there was a prototype lighting system at his complex. The people working at Menlo Park couldn't create enough light bulbs, so he wanted to mass produce them, however the investors didn't want to spend any more money until the original promise was met. Four years after the original promise, the lights turned on at Central Station. Some other towns then began to install lights. Soon after that, competitors emerged, including George Westinghouse.

Edison launched a propaganda campaign to convince people that AC was too dangerous. He repeatedly electrocuted animals with 1000V of alternating current to 'prove' that AC was unsafe. Thomas Edison introduced execution by electrocution. In 1889, a murderer (William Kemmler) was executed by electrocution. The executioners left the current on for 17 seconds. He was smoking, so it was turned off, but he wasn't dead; he was bleeding out of multiple places and was having spasms, so they quickly turned it back on and left it on for 72 seconds. His body was smouldering. After this, the public outrage was so strong that he was fired from his company, it was renamed "General Electric" and it joined with George Westinghouse. [citation needed]Finally, the company built the hydro-electric plant at Niagra Falls.

One of the more notable occasions when Edison electrocuted animals was when in 1903, he electrocuted Topsy the elephant at Luna Park. Edison claimed that it was the AC power's fault that the animals died; not his. [citation needed]He claimed that the animals being electrocuted were being "Westinghoused". Edison even filmed the death of Topsy and gladly distributed the video.[citation needed]


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