Tag Archives: Edison

How a man losing his hearing was the first to capture sound

Before the light bulb, Thomas Alva Edison was famous for inventing the phonograph, a simple device that was able to record sounds and then play them back. The phonograph had come to existence while Edison worked to develop a commercially viable telephone.

Edison noticed that when a paper tape was ran through a telegraph transmitter at high speeds, it would produce sounds that resemble spoken words. Instead of using paper, Edison would use a tinfoil cylinder that would be hand-cranked. This cylinder could be written onto or read by a metallic stylus.  Finally in 1877 Edison completed this idea and recorded himself reciting the nursery rhyme, “Mary had a little lamb”.

Edison with his second Phonograph
Edison with his second Phonograph in 1878

Though Edison became famous for his work on sound, Edison was almost deaf. He had lost his hearing at age 15 when he was working as a train boy to raise money for his chemistry experiments. Rather then dwelling on the loss, Edison saw how the loss of hearing would in the end give him a wealth of advantages.

In telegraphy being hearing impaired meant that he could only hear the machine in front of him unlike his fellow telegraphers who would have to focus to tune out the noises of the machines around them. Edison’s love for telegraphy would translate into a career of invention as his first patents were ways of improving the telegraph. His handicap also forced him to focus on reading and became more contemplative. Since Edison couldn’t hear the outside world, he spent more time thinking about how different ideas could be combined into a new product. In the case of the phonograph, Edison had invented a telegraph machine that could record telegraph messages years earlier, would it be possible to create a machine to record phone calls? Ultimately his deafness allowed him to invent.

Edison's Improvement on the stock ticker included a device that would allow for quick printing of stock prices
Edison’s Improvement on the stock ticker included a device that would allow for quick printing of stock prices. This machine would take telegraph messages of stock prices and then print the name and price of a stock on a long tape of paper. This device was invented by Edison in 1867.

Though handicapped Edison didn’t see deafness as a disadvantage. He instead focused on what he knew and what he could do with his ideas. Thus through great focus and ingenuity Edison would spearhead the creation of the Electric industry, founding what is today General Electric. He would create film industry and gave great strides to the music industry with his invention of the phonograph.

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The Light Bulb, advice from Thomas Edison

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. Electric-Light-BulbWhen 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 hoThomasEdisonurs. 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.

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