If you are struggling to accomplish something important, you can learn from the life of Thomas Edison. He didn’t give up until he achieved his goals, despite profound deafness. As a boy, he studied science in his spare time and conducted science experiments that prepared him for a career as an inventor. You probably know about his experiments to create a practical lightbulb, but you might not know that he invented more than 1,000 products.

Growing Up

The youngest of seven children, Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio. Like his father and brother, Edison suffered from hearing loss. Edison attended school for a few months, but teachers considered him a poor student, so his mother, Nancy Elliott Edison, home-schooled him. At age 12, Edison took a job on a railroad selling candy and newspapers, including a newspaper he published. As a teenager he rescued a toddler from an oncoming train. The child’s grateful father taught Edison to use the telegraph.

As an Adult

In 1868, Edison moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to work in a telegraph office. On Christmas Day, 1871, Edison married Mary Stilwell, and they moved to New Jersey. Together they had three children: Marion, Thomas, Jr. and William. His wife died in 1884, and two years later, Edison married Mina Miller. They had three children: Madeleine, Charles and Theodore. Because of Edison's poor health, the Edison family spent winters in Fort Myers, Florida, where they entertained friends including Henry Ford, owner of the Ford Motor Company, and Harvey Firestone, founder of a large automobile tire manufacturing company.


Edison patented 1,093 inventions. His first patented invention, a device for quickly recording votes in the United States Congress, was a failure. After this setback, he only invented things people wanted. He invented a phonograph that attracted so much attention then-President Rutherford B. Hayes asked Edison to demonstrate the invention in the White House. Although he did not invent the first lightbulb, Edison experimented with different lightbulbs until he developed a lightbulb that didn’t burn out quickly. He spent 10 years working on an alkaline battery that became a lucrative seller. He invented a system for filming and showing movies, but within 20 years, the field became so competitive that he withdrew from the motion picture industry.

Little-Known Facts

Because Edison hated the smell of cooking, he constructed a separate building on his Florida estate to house the kitchen. He often worked all night and slept in his laboratory. A practical joker, Edison described to a reporter a new invention for contacting dead people, but later said he was just joking. Edison taught Morse code to his wife Mina so they could communicate secret messages to each other in public.

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