The Inventions of Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was a remarkable man, who changed the world in which we live. Much of the technology we now take for granted, such as a webcam or a video phone, would not have been possible without Edison’s first moving picture camera.

Known as the ‘Wizard of Menlo Park’, Edison held 1093 patents. However, he is best known for three inventions, the phonograph, a modernized version of the electric light bulb and, as mentioned above, the moving picture camera.

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Thomas Edison’s Phonograph

The phonograph is not only one of the best known of Thomas Edison’s inventions, it is also one of his first. Created while in Menlo Park, the idea for a tin foil phonograph came to the inventor while trying to improve telegraph transmission. Edison reasoned that it was possible to record a spoken message by using the diaphragm of a telephone receiver to which he attached a needle. The theory was that sound vibrations would be recorded by the needle and then replicated when played back.

Eventually, Edison began to apply this principle to a tin foil cylinder and a stylus. The invention consisted of two needles; one used to record and one to playback. Famously, the first words recorded by Thomas Edison on his phonograph were, “Mary had a little lamb.”

By 1877, Edison had completed the first working model of the phonograph. He then took a tour of the U.S. giving demonstrations of his new technology. Just a year later, Thomas Edison established the Edison Speaking Phonograph company and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thomas Edison's Patent Application For an inca...
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Thomas Edison’s Work on the Electric Light Bulb

Edison is sometimes erroneously credited with the creation of the light bulb. In fact, he was responsible for the improvement of a 50-year-old invention. Edison’s development of the light bulb led to a more reliable, longer lasting electric light.

In 1879, not resting on the laurels of his success with the phonograph, Edison began to experiment with a lower current, a carbonized filament and an improved vacuum inside the bulb. He found that this led to a much more efficient use of electricity, which ensured that the life of the bulb was extended.

During the 1880s, it was his success with the development of electric lighting that made Edison famous throughout the world. Over the course of the decade, his electric companies grew quickly and were eventually joined to form Edison General Electric.

Thomas Edison’s Work on Motion Pictures

oday, movies and television are watched all over the world. However, none of this would be possible without Thomas Edison’s development of the motion picture camera. Although a long-standing interest of Edison’s, he did not become resolutely committed to the invention until 1888 when Eadweard Muybridge visited his laboratory.

Apparently, Edison wanted to create a machine that would, “do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear”. He called his invention the kinetoscope and the first moving picture recorded was of Edison’s employee, Fred Ott, pretending to sneeze. However, the quality of these recordings was poor until Eastman Kodak developed motion picture film.

We take many of our mod cons for granted, but it is worth bearing in mind the ingenuity of men like Thomas Edison, who have made them possible. As the Thomas Edison quote goes, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Photo by State Library and Archives of Florida

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