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The Wizard of Menlo Park

In school, young Thomas Alva Edison's mind often wandered. His teacher called him "addled", meaning confused and unable to think clearly. That's way Edison had only three months of formal schooling.

One day in the summer of 1862, Edison saved three-year-old Jimmie MacKenzie from being struck by a runaway train. Jimmie's father, station agent James MacKensie, was so grateful that he made Edison an apprentice telegraph operator.

Working as a telegraph operator, Edison learned the basics of electricity. In 1874 he invented a telegraph which transmitted four messages simultaneously. In 1892, Edison received a patent for a two-way telegraph, which he sold to Western Union for $10,000 (about $200,000 in today's money).

Thomas Edison in 1878
Thomas Edison in 1878

Edison realized that, with the new scientific discoveries in electronics, that it was the time that incredible inventions could be made. With electricity you could operate motors, operate switches, record sound, create light, and show moving pictures. Using the money from his telegraph invention, Edison built a research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

He hired the best engineers to carry out research and development under his direction. So when it's said that Edison invented something, it's more proper to say that Edison's laboratory invented it. In 1877 Edison invented the phonograph which recorded sound on tinfoil around a cylinder. In 1878, he invented carbon microphone which was used in all telephones until the 1980s. In 1879 he invented the incandescent electric lighting and the carbon filament lamp.

Edison did not invent the first electric light bulb, but he invented the first commercially practical incandescent light. Other light bulbs of the time could last only a very short time. Edison's light bulb used a high resistance carbon filament in a vacuum, which would burn for hundreds of hours.

In 1888 Edison invented the motion picture camera, which he called the Kinetograph. In 1895 the German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen dicovered the fluorescing effect which he attributed to x-rays. Edison quickly improved upon Röntgen's experiment using a calcium tungstate screen that produced brighter images and produced the first commercially available X-ray machine.

Edison is one of the most prolific inventors in history, holding 1,093 U.S. patents, as well as many patents in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Edison and his laboratory created so many new inventions that a journalist labeled him "The Wizard of Menlo Park".

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