As you well know, August 1st came and went, taking with it every last incandescent lightbulb on store shelves. Banned after 16 years on the chopping block, all you can do now is use any still on hand or toss them out. It’s now LED bulbs’ time to shine, and they do it a whole better. In terms of brightness, they send out between 70 and 100 lumens (a measure of brightness) per watt vs. an incandescent’s lowly 15. They also use less electricity, last longer, and save money, too. That acronym, by the way, stands for Light-emitting Diode–whatever a diode is…

But before it’s totally out with the old and in with the newer, come with me to 1847 and a world dependent on candles and gaslights. Along with gas masks and ring-shaped doughnuts, the year ushered in Samuel and Nancy Edison’s seventh and last child, Thomas Alva, born on February 11, in Milan, Ohio.

Now jump to the 1850’s, famous for the arrival of potato chips (known then as crisps), pencils with attached erasers, escalators, ironing boards, and mass-produced rolled toilet paper.

The toilet paper on a roll came to market in 1857; three years earlier, the Edisons moved to Port Huron, Michigan. There, young Tom spent just 12 weeks in public-school. Yes! Just three months and he was out—forever. It just wasn’t’ a good fit for a kid considered “difficult,”– hyperactive, easily distracted, and going deaf, too.

As he explained in a rare 1907 interview for the one-time publication, T.P.’s Weekly

“One day I overheard the teacher tell the inspector that I was ‘addled,’ and it would not be worthwhile keeping me in school any longer. I was so hurt by this last straw that I burst out crying and went home and told my mother about it…”

Right away, she took him back to the school, and, as he recalled, “angrily told the teacher that he didn’t know what he was talking about, that I had more brains than he himself…”


And that was that. Nancy homeschooled her son from that point on until he was 16.

Curiosity, innate intelligence, persistence, fascination with all things mechanical, and his voracious book reading took him the rest of the way…

Said Edison, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had someone to live for, someone I must not disappoint…”

Ultimately, he earned, singly or jointly, 1,093 patents and the title, Wizard of Menlo Park. Located in New Jersey, his laboratory is heralded as “the world’s first research and development facility.”

Among his numerous patents:

  • The phonograph and recorded sound
  • Motion pictures
  • The electrographic vote recorder
  • Automatic telegraph

Edison’s best known and considered his greatest contribution, , however is his incandescent lightbulb. Patented on January 27, 1880, it lit up the world.

Says the Thomas Edison Center website: “More than any other inventor in history, Thomas Edison is responsible for the technologies that make modern life modern.”

Biographer John D. Veno puts it this way: “The man whose clothes were always wrinkled, whose hair was always tousled, and who frequently lacked a shave probably did more than any other to influence the industrial civilization in which we live…”

The piece ends with, “His achievements, more so than those of any one man, had helped to lift America to the pinnacle of greatness. The world was his beneficiary.”

Not too shabby for someone once labelled “difficult” by his elementary school and considered unworthy of being taught there.

A lesson for the rest of us, if ever there were one, no?

Thomas Edison died in his West Orange, NJ home on October 18, 1931, at the age of 84.

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