Thomas Alva Edison,
The Man who Immortalized Music.
Can you imagine a world without electricity?
One where music could not be recorded and kept, to listen to whenever one desire?
A world where there are no motion pictures? It was into such a that Thomas Alva Edison was born on 11 February, 1847. He, through his inventions, gave us a new world of music, light and motion pictures.
Edison was one of the greatest inventors of all time. He has to his credit more than a thousand inventions. At the tender age of four he began his experiments.
One day his mother was all dressed Nd ready to go to church. She wanted to take her little son along with her, but he was nowhere to be seen. “Al, are you ready for church? Al, where are you?” She called out as she went about searching for him. She searched every room in the house, and went out into the yard looking for him. Then she went in to the farm buildings.
She found the little four-year old boy in the barn, sitting cautiously on a layer of eggs.
“What are you doing, Al,” asked the astonished mother, “sitting there in those eggs?”
“I am trying to hatch them, Mum,” said little Al seriously.
“Oh, Al! You are a delight!” Said the amused mother, laughing.
His mother, Nancy Edison, loved him dearly. Three of her children had died, and her little Al was frail, too. So she took good care of him. She gave him good food and kept him healthy. She also loved to teach him and made learning fun for him.
When he was seven, the family moved to Port Huron in the state of Michigan. The town was surrounded by forests and woods. So his father, Samuel Edison started a timber business.
He was sent to a school in Fort Huron. In this school everything was taught by rote. Pupils were not allowed to ask questions. Al wanted to really understand his lessons, and he couldn’t memorize them mechanically. The poor boy was caned mercilessly for this. His mother was furious. She took Al out of the school and decided to teach him herself at home.
She was a good teacher. Moreover, she believed that her son would learn well and would grow up in to a fine, intelligent, capable person. Much later, when he grew up, he said, “Mother was always kind and sympathetic and never seemed to misjudged me. If it had not been for her faith in me, very likely, I would never have been an inventor.”
Soon, Al developed a love for reading which was encouraged by his parents. One of his happy memories is the day he turned nine. He remembers how he woke up to the ‘Happy Birthday’ song, sung by his parents, brothers and sisters standing by his beside. His mother held out a packet to him–his birthday present. When opened the packet he was delighted to find a science book called Parker’s Natural and Experimental Philosophy.
What he likes best as gifts were books, though he never accepted everything said in a book. This was specially true of science books and whenever possible, he tested with experiments what the book stated. He had a mind which always enquired and questioned.
The family was in financial difficulty. His father could never make much money. Al’s father always wanted to do great things for his family but did not have sufficient income. Al loved him for his dreams regarding the family and vowed that one day he would help him realize those dreams. A time did come when he became very rich through his many inventions.
Al started working at the age of twelve. In those days, to be working at such a young age was not at all unusual in America. But the amount of work he did everyday was certainly unusual for a boy of twelve. He sold newspapers, fruit and candy to train passengers. It was tiresome work, walking up and down through the entire lengthy of the train for three hours, calling out, “Newspaper, candy…. paper, candy”, continuously. He gave all his earnings to his parents, who were deeply touched. They increased his pocket money so that he could buy the chemicals he wanted to conduct experiments.
Young Edison converted the baggage compartment of his train in to a laboratory and carried out his experiments while at work. Half this compartment had been partitioned to make a smoking room. But people did not use it because it had no windows, Al found it always empty. So he converted it into his laboratory and spent his time there, experimenting with chemicals. One day, while he was doing experiments, a piece of phosphorus caught fire and smoke came drifting out of the baggage compartment. The train was halted at a station. People panicked when they saw the smoke. It was a struggle to put out the fire. The angry conductor threw out the boy and his equipment. He was hit on his ear.
An accident at about this time started his deafness which Edison has for the rest of the life. One day, while Edison was trying to climb into a freight car, both arms full of newspapers, the conductor took him by his ears to lift him into the car. Edison felt something snap on his head, and that was the beginning of his deafness. He always said he did not mind being deaf. It kept him from being bothered by outside noises and he could concentrate fully in his work.
Edison and Graham Bell were two scientists who were deeply interested in sound. Of them, Edison succeeded in recording sound, and Graham Bell in transmitting it across vast distances. Deafness was a cause of sorrow in the lives of both these great men. While Edison himself was nearly deaf, the two persons whom Graham Bell loved most — his mother and wife were both deaf.
Though he had become deaf, Edison did not lose heart. He became interested in telegraphy and a stationmaster, James Mackenzie, taught him its technology. Edison studied every book he was able to get on the subject.
As a result, he got a job a Telegraphist. It was his first job. Edison was only sixteen at the time. The job was with the Grand Trunk Railroad; his duty was to keep the night staff awake by sending telegraph signal every hour. It meant staying awake the whole night and Edison, who wanted to sleep, decided to something about it. He connected the telegraph machine to the clock and the device gave the signal every hour automatically. Thus, Edison could sleep freely! This was his first invention.
Now, his mind was fully occupied with ideas. When ideas take shape they become inventions, and Edison won his first patent in 1868. A patent makes you the rightful owner of your invention. The invention that got him his first patent was a ‘Voting Recorder’ by which votes could be easily counted.
A year later he was asked to invent a new Telegraphic machine which would enable stockbrokers know the latest gold price, speedily. When he presented the machine, he was paid a cheque of 40,000 dollars! This was first of the large sums he was to receive for his inventions. He used part of this money to set up a large laboratory in Menlo park, New Jersey. Here he spent the next few years trying to improve the telegraph.
At about this time Mary Stillwell
Joined the Edison laboratories as a capable and valuable assistant. Edison proposed marriage to her in quite a novel fashion.
One day, in the midst of a new experiment, he stopped and looked at her, “Mary….,” he called.
“Well, what is it, Al?” Asked Mary.
Edison took out a coin from his pocket and tapped out a message in a telegraphic code on the edge of his desk:
HAVE BEEN THINKING MUCH ABOUT YOU LATELY STOP WILL YOU MARRY ME QUERY.
Mary blushed. Then she tapped out the answer:
THAT WOULD MAKE ME VERY HAPPY.
Edison married Mary Stillwell in 1871 at the age of twenty four. At this time he was working on the telegraph and so, nicknamed his two children Dot and Dash, signs which form the telegraphic code. But he was so fully given to his researches that he had no time for his family.
Edison accidentally came upon the idea of his most famous invention, that of recording sound. It came like a flash of lightening while was working at a telegraphic machine. When he made a sound, the needle used in the machine pricked his finger. Edison was excited. This opened a whole new line of thought: perhaps sound could be recorded as drawings and these drawings could be used to reproduce the sound! This idea was revealed in the invention of the phonograph which made him world famous. Louis Pasteur invited Edison to his institute; Alexander Eiffel invited him for lunch at the top of his tower, the famous ‘Eiffel Tower’, in Paris.
Success did not stop his work. He worked night and day, ignoring Mary’s protests. Sometimes he slept on his work-table in the laboratory. He wanted to convert electricity in to light finally after a stretch of continuous experiments turning nights into days he invented the electric bulb.
On September 4, 1882 thousands of people gathered in a dark night, in New York to watch the new marvel. At a signal a switch was pull, and lo! Thousands of lamps in hundreds of homes, burst in to brilliance. That night, humankind entered in the world of light.
Edison mind was still not a rest. He was never-ending search. He wanted to invent a machine that would record a movement just as the photograph recorded sound. He invented Kinetograph which could take forty-six photographs of a moving object continuously, in one second. Before this, a camera could be used to take only a single photograph. The Kinetograph was the first step towards the movie camera.
Edison wanted to help young scientists to do research. So he built a huge, well equipped laboratory; he employed young scientists in the lab, where they could do research freely. This was the forerunner of the modern research department of universities.
Edison passed away on October 18, 1931, after a life full of achievements and honours. He was a living example of what he once said: “The man who doesn’t make up his mind to cultivate the habit of thinking, missed one of the greatest pleasures in life.”