Edison has long been a staple of school history books, and most people know him as the inventor of the bulb, but in more recent years, Edison has become an extremely controversial figure. As the Information Age entered full swing, peoplea began questioning everything, and many people started saying that Edison does not deserve as much credit as people give him. Around the same time, a Tesla revival movement kicked off to honor the mad Serbian researcher. Unfortunately, this movement decided that Tesla couldn’t be built up without tearing Edison down. This has prompting to a plethora of misinformation about Edison spreading around the Internet, leading to massive confusion about the man who brought us the first phonograph. While Edison wasn’t perfect, he was hardly the mustache-twirling villain some people claim he was, and his rivalry with Tesla was not all it’s cracked up to be. So, here is list of Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Thomas Alva Edison.
10 The Confusion Over His Credit For The Lightbulb
Many people were taught when they were young that Thomas Edison invented the Bulb, and when they were older the Internet told them they were Absouletly wrong. Now, many confused Individual are wondering what exactly is going on and what all the confusion is about. Well, as it turns out with many things, the answer is a little complicated. And, as is often the case with inventions, more than one individual deserves credit.
Back in 1875, two men named Woodward and Evans designed a primitive bulb which they patented, but they were never able to make the money to experiment with it properly and come up with a good, working prototype. Around the same time period, another man named Joseph Swan was additionally working on a lightbulb. That was when Edison entered the story. He saw potential in the lightbulb idea and purchased the rights from Woodward and Evans.
While multiple individuals were working on something similar, and he bought the rights to the idea, Edison and his Scientists still spent years in the laboratory in order to make the lightbulb into something worth using. Edison did not invent the bulb, but for all practical purposes he was the first to make one that lasted long enough to be used.
His first attempts lasted a little over half day, but eventually his efforts led to a Light bulb that could burn for 1,200 hours. We also tend to take for granted all the little switches and fuse boxes that make the bulb work and keep us from electrocuting ourselves—that was Edison’s work, too.
9 Direct Current Is Actually Extremely Useful And Could Make A Comeback
Numerous people think that alternating current (AC) beat direct current (DC), and that was the end of the story.
Also, as it has become a part of the Tesla versus Edison narrative, it has reached a point where it’s almost observed by some people on a moral scale—as in, right versus wrong. However, while alternating current did beat out direct current for a lot of things, and it is yet the main system used to deliver our power, the truth is that DC is really better for some applications, and it is used very commonly today.
For example, nearly all of our Mobiles , computers, and other electronic Gadgets charge using DC power—they all require a DC adapter to plug into the wall.
Also, in some cases, new wind turbines and other innovation are actually using DC power, and then the energy companies are going to great expense—and wasting energy—to convert it back to AC power because that’s still how the network is set up. This has driven some companies to start heading toward the possibility of switching back to DC power again.
One of the biggest problems with DC was that it was hard to move the power over long distances, however if distance isn’t a big issue, DC is often more efficient when it comes to power use.
Not only has DC never stopped being useful, but there is reason to believe it may start to make a comeback in the next few years and could end up one day being utilized more than AC power overall. Perhaps one day Edison will win the war of the currents after all.
8 His Rivalry With Tesla Is Greatly Exaggerated
Most people love a good hero versus villain story, and so it goes that people have spun the rivalry between Tesla and Edison into a tall tale. As it often occurs, the truth is much more complicated to properly ascertain and was likely not nearly as intense as most people envision.
The story goes that when Edison was first working on his DC system, he approached a young engineer for help making a better system and Tesla came up with an AC system instead. According to Tesla, Edison offered him a large sum of cash for the work and then told him it was a joke when Tesla requested the payment later.
We do know Edison told the young innovator that his ideas were “splendid” but “utterly impractical.” Tesla was always a very sensitive soul, and having his thoughts rejected by one of the best-known inventors of the day did not sit well with him.
While Tesla always claimed he left the company after Edison laughed off his promised reward, Edison’s secretary tells a different version where Tesla left after his immediate boss (not Edison) refused him a small raise. At the time, Tesla was a relatively low-level worker in Edison’s company which was something the proud Tesla likely had trouble accepting.
While there was certainly some bad blood for a while, there is little historical evidence that either of them invested a large amount of time ruminating on the other.
They were both busy inventing things and advancing their ideas. Once Tesla sold most of his AC rights to Westinghouse, the battle for the currents was mainly between him and Edison, while Tesla worked on other pet tasks in his own right.
Also, while it’s difficult to know for sure the veracity of the story or how much they really disliked each other, Tesla once said later about Edison,
“I was astonished at this wonderful man who, without early advantages and scientific training, had accomplished so much.
I had studied a dozen dialects, delved in literature and art, and had spent my greatest years in libraries . . . and I feel that most of my life has been squandered.” Edison additionally once offered to let Tesla use some of his laboratory space in New Jersey after once of Tesla’s labs burned down.
While this is not evidence they were friends or ever settled their differences, it does suggest that their rivalry was more complicated and probably a lot less hateful than many people might think.
7 Edison’s Main Opponent In The War Of The Currents Was Not Tesla
Because of the incredible amount of work Tesla put into making AC a viable system, when people think of the war of the currents, they often think that it was a Fight of Edison versus Tesla, wherein Edison was trying as hard as he could to crush the spunky little person who was opposing him.
However, as we mentioned earlier, once Tesla had sold his rights to Westinghouse and moved on to personal projects, he truly didn’t have any involvement in the ongoing current war. Of course, he thought his AC system was predominant, but from a practical standpoint he no longer had skin in the game, and Edison had no reason to discredit him particularly.
Edison’s real rival was the powerhouse George Westinghouse (pictured), who had originally made his fortune by designing air brakes for trains. From that point onward, he took an interest in electrical power systems and formed his own Organisation.
There is an apocryphal story that claims that Westinghouse once came to Edison with some great ideas, and he was snubbed by Edison who said he should stick only to air brakes and not mess with electricity. The legend claims that then Westinghouse literally started his organization out of spite. In actuality, Westinghouse was already quite interested in the subject when he visited Edison’s lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey, and at the time they were very cheerful with each other.
It was only when Westinghouse started a seriously competing business that Edison started to get truly annoyed, and some historians say he never actually hated Westinghouse or Tesla, but he was passionate about what he had developed and would do whatever was necessary to see it come to life. few people believe Edison was acting in bad faith, but some historians think that Edison was so blinded by his discovery and the time and energy he had Spended in it, that he truly believed AC was dangerous and could not see the predominance of the system he opposed.
The trope that Edison was the well-funded man beating down an underdog is also false. While there are plenty of questionable means that Edison used in his campaign to ruin DC, his chief rival, George Westinghouse, was far better equipped when it came to handling legal challenges and building infrastructure, as he already had a large personal fortune and many big-money allies due to his business associations.
Considering the claims that Edison was not particularly hateful toward his opponents, perhaps it could be said the war of the currents was really Thomas Edison against AC, or even Thomas Edison against himself, unable to acknowledge that his system was not the superior one.
6 The Phonograph Was Truly Revolutionary
Sometimes when people talk of Tesla they say that he was a man who was out of place for his time, but in a way this is true of all revolutionary inventors, and Edison—as Tesla would have agreed—was no exception. When most people discuss about Edison, it is either to castigate him for his mythical treatment of Tesla or to argue whether he did or did not invent the bulb.
However, people rarely talk about the phonograph, an invention that was never really given the consideration it deserved during its time but changed things far more than most people could realize.
At the time, the phonograph would have been like the very first computers; it filled a need no one thought needed to be filled. The capability to record sounds and play them back later was completely inconceivable of and was one of the many things for which Edison earned the title “The Wizard of Menlo Park.”
Today, we take for granted that we can tune to music anywhere and play back recorded sounds, but before Edison it wasn’t just that no one had invented it.
No one had even born of the possibility. Later on, Edison would be inspired to utilize this technology with some other ideas he had to create some of the first moving pictures, making him one of the early pioneers of cinema as well. No one is suggesting that Edison was the sole creator of the bulb, or movies, but his work on both was integral to bring us to where we are today.
5 Thomas Edison’s Work For The USA In World War I
Because of his status as a celebrity scientist, Edison was once asked to help the US Navy in preparing for the possibility of large-scale war. They did not approach Edison for his opinion solely when it came to scientific advances, but they additionally asked for his advice on preparing for war in general, putting him in charge of the Naval Consulting Board in advance of World War I.
It is possible that his efforts at helping to industrialize the world marked him as the type of individual with the big ideas they were hoping for. However, while he did do his best to put his mind to the task, and he believed we should be prepared for war, he was not the type who believed in creating large-scale weapons of war or mass annihilation, and he never put his talents toward making things that could kill people.
In fact, when asked in an interview, Edison once said, “Science is going to make war a terrible thing—too terrible to contemplate. Pretty soon we can be cutting down men by the thousands or even millions almost by pressing a button.”
These words were quite prescient, as the first atomic bomb was dropped to the tune of unimaginable destruction roughly 30 years after Edison’s announcement. Edison worked with the Navy on designing mechanical assembly for keeping submarines from being detected and detecting enemy vessels, but he was never interested in creating the true machinery of war.
4 Edison Took The Same Risks As His Hired Researchers
There is an incident in the life of Edison that some people like to point to when they want to paint him as a dastardly villain, and that is the narrative of Edison’s research into X-rays and the injury of his assistant Clarence Dally.
X-ray technology was a total unknown at the time, and like most inventors, he found it hard to shy away from something new that required discovering. So, Edison and Dally began experimenting with X-rays in the hopes of making the entire process better and more proficient.
Unfortunately, their lack of knowledge of the true dangers of the X-ray cost both of them dearly. Dally gained awful burns on his arms and sores all over his body, and he lived several painful years before succumbing to radiation poisoning. He was the first person to breakthrough this dubious milestone in the US.
Edison himself was not unaffected by the radiation. It caused permanent damage to his left eye and to his stomach as well. Edison stopped the experiments after the harm to himself and his assistant and told the press that he was afraid of X-rays.
While many people wish to see Edison as a man motivated by profit and nothing else, he did not even attempt to patent his work on X-rays but simply moved on from the project, thinking them too dangerous to mess around with even for a scientist of his experience and caliber.
3 He Wanted To Reform The Federal Reserve
Today, many people decry the Federal Reserve because they say our system is based on nothing more than promises, hopes, dreams, and words.
Some people want to go back to the day when our system was backed by gold because they feel it would make the economy more steady. Other people think that gold was never a good way to back currency to started with, and that something like gold that doesn’t have much practical worth (aside from being a really good conductor) should not be the basis of anyone’s monetary system.
A while ago gold was the standard, Thomas Edison felt that the system needed a stronger backing than gold. But, unlike some people from his time, his solution was not to switch to another precious metal like silver. Quite the contrary, Edison wanted our cash system to be backed by something that was truly useful and, in his opinion at least, fairly stable and mostly static.
Edison wanted our cash system to be based on the output of America’s farmers, who would receive interest-free loans from the government in order to help them afford to grow their harvests. According to specialists who analyzed this plan, a few of the most important commodities would basically become money and would act as collateral in loans provided by the government.
This would guarantee, in Edison’s view, that our money system was backed by something that was “relatively constant” and also something that had real, actual value to the American individuals. While it’s hard to say if such an idea could actually work, as it has never been attempted, Edison was clearly thinking ahead of his time and would be lauded by many today for wanting a more solid backing for US money.
While the specifics of Edison’s idea were difficult to implement, a commodity-backed currency would later be proposed by such prominent economists as John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, and John Nash.
2 Edison Lost Much Of His Hearing In A Childhood Accident
Many people realize that Edison was hard of hearing, but it’s a detail often glossed over in favor of other parts of the myth. While many Individuals may not think of it this way, Edison had a severe hearing problem and still became one of the greatest and most lauded scientists of his age.
Not only that, but one of his inventions, the phonograph, dealt directly with recording sounds despite the fact the man could hardly hear. A great scientist like Edison overcoming a disability would normally be an inspirational story, but unfortunately many Individuals today only wish to see Edison as a villain. Of course, while we know he had trouble hearing, even Edison was never clear on how exactly he lost his hearing.
The most likely explanation is that he lost much of his hearing during a bout with scarlet fever when he was a Kid, but according to Edison himself, his hearing may have been ruined, or at least made worse, by an incident onboard a train.
One story claims that Edison got his ears boxed by a train Worker, while another story claims he was running to catch a train and his hearing was damaged when someone helped him onboard by pulling on his ears. While Edison himself changed his story over the years, he was always good-natured about his disability and never let it get him down or stop him from achieving his goals.
1 He Had More Empathy Than You May Think
As we have pointed out, modern-day sources often make Edison out to be a merciless individual with a moral compass that is always pointing south, but life in general is always more complicated than that.
Thomas Edison was an inventor, a businessman, and he had faults just like everyone else. But he was not an evil villain cackling and conspiring to destroy others. Like many men, he was competitive, but there is no evidence of him trying to destroy Tesla’s career, and some historians believe his crusade against AC was to an extent a genuine belief that it would not be entirely safe for people to utilize.
This is not that hard to believe, as Edison believed greatly in creating safety switches and the like to go along with his electronic apparatus, and he was very concerned if any of his scientists became sick while experimenting.
Nowhere was this more apparent than with Clarence Dally. As we mentioned, Dally and Edison both worked on X-rays studying the impacts of radium and polonium. The exposure was so bad that Dally ended up losing both of his arms, and he suffered for nearly eight years before he finally died from the radiation harming. Edison was greatly upset by all this, and it affected his thinking for the rest of his life.
He would not go near radioactive materials and advised others against doing as such. He additionally promised to take care of Dally and his family and keep him on payroll (even when he could no longer work) because Edison felt horrible about what happened.
That was despite the fact that Dally had entered into the experiments willingly and neither of them could have known the risk. Edison may not have been perfect, and he may not have always been the best to his business rivals, but the man certainly had a heart.