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Thomas Alva Edison

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Edison, Thomas Alva (1847–1931), U.S. inventor, the “Wizard of Menlo Park.” The New York Times calculated when he died that the total value of commercial enterprises derived from his inventions was $25,683,544,343, thus crediting his brain with the highest cash value of all time. Edison had only 3 months of formal schooling; his teacher said he was “addled.” He received the rest of his education from his mother. From 16 to 21 he roamed the United States and Canada as an itinerant telegraph operator. Arriving in New York penniless, he borrowed a dollar, found work with a company controlling stock-ticker apparatus, invented an improved ticker system, and sold it for $40,000. He opened a small factory to produce the device and continued inventing. In 1876 Edison moved to Menlo Park, N.J., where he set up the world's first industrial research laboratory. There he developed a carbon transmitter for the new but impractical Bell telephone, and sold it for $100,000. Further experimentation produced the phonograph (1877). Edison then turned to the problem of electric lighting, creating the filament and vacuum bulb that enabled an incandescent light to be steadily maintained (Dec. 31, 1879). His company, the Edison Machine Works, a forerunner of the giant modern utilities, was moved in 1886 to Schenectady, N.Y., which then became a major technological and manufacturing center. Edison moved his laboratories the following year to West Orange, N.J. His next great invention was the kinetoscope, or motion picture viewer. He also experimented with the concept of talking pictures. Among his many productions were a kiln for Portland cement, a synthetic substitute for carbolic acid, and a high-efficiency automobile battery. He also established the first electric power station at Pearl Street in New York City. His best-known remark was that genius is “1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

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