Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) is considered one of the greatest inventors of all time. Innovative and daring, he secured over one thousand patents. His most memorable innovation the commercial light bulb. This is what made electric lighting a possible. When asked what it took him to accomplished this feat he responded, “I didn’t fail ten thousand times, I found ten thousand ways that it didn’t work.”
The commercial light bulb, his iconic achievement, was marked with countless hardships and challenges. A popular misconception is that Edison invented the light bulb; light bulbs already existed, but Edison made them practical. Before Edison, light bulbs were prone to overheating and burning out in mere seconds. Incandescent light bulbs work by heating a thin filament via an electric current which then emits light. Because of the heat required, filaments would quickly burn up in the presence of oxygen and some materials used couldn’t handle the heat. To top it off, Edison had competitors who worked tirelessly to make a practical light bulb.
Racing against better trained men, Edison attempts what they didn’t. He moved away from metallic filaments and experimented with practically anything, from horse hair to cotton thread to bamboo. Crazy? It worked. A cotton thread coated in carbon could last for over 13 hours. His next innovation, the bamboo filament, lasts 1200 hours making the light bulb practical.
Edison faced many challenges. Not only did the light bulb have high requirements, he also faced competitors who, on face value, could easily outstrip him. What gave him the edge?
He didn’t give up. Even though he failed ten thousand times, he didn’t give up. His determination and perseverance made it happen.
He didn’t let failures be failures, each of his failures was a learning experience. A failed test gave insight on what needed improvement. Hence he didn’t fail ten thousand times, he found ten thousand ways it didn’t work.
The creation of the practical light bulb lead to a new industry that Edison pioneered: electricity. With increasing demand for safer electric light and robust electric power, Edison founded the Edison Electric Light company which became General Electric.