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Born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio, Thomas Edison rose from humble beginnings to work as an inventor of major technology. Setting up a lab in Menlo Park, some of the products he developed included the telegraph, phonograph, electric light bulb, alkaline storage batteries and Kinetograph (a camera for motion pictures). He died on October 18, 1931, in West Orange, New Jersey.Inventor Thomas Alva Edison was born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio. He was the last of the seven children of Samuel and Nancy Edison. Thomas's father was an exiled political activist from Canada. His mother, an accomplished school teacher, was a major influence in Thomas’ early life. An early bout with scarlet fever as well as ear infections left him with hearing difficulties in both ears, a malady that would eventually leave him nearly deaf as an adult. Edison would later recount as an adult, with variations on the story, that he lost his hearing due to a train incident where his ears were injured. But others have tended to discount this as the sole cause of his hearing loss.Edison also used his access to the railroad to conduct chemical experiments in a small laboratory he set up in a train baggage car. During one of his experiments, a chemical fire started and the car caught fire. The conductor rushed in and struck Thomas on the side of the head, probably furthering some of his hearing loss. He was kicked off the train and forced to sell his newspapers at various stations along the route.While he worked for the railroad, a near-tragic event turned fortuitous for the young man. After Edison saved a 3-year-old from being run over by an errant train, the child’s grateful father rewarded him by teaching him to operate a telegraph. By age 15, he had learned enough to be employed as a telegraph operator. For the next five years, Edison traveled throughout the Midwest as an itinerant telegrapher, subbing for those who had gone to the Civil War. In his spare time, he read widely, studied and experimented with telegraph technology, and became familiar with electrical science.In 1868, Edison returned home to find his beloved mother was falling into mental illness and his father was out of work. The family was almost destitute. Edison realized he needed to take control of his future. Upon the suggestion of a friend, he ventured to Boston, landing a job for the Western Union Company. At the time, Boston was America's center for science and culture, and Edison reveled in it. In his spare time, he designed and patented an electronic voting recorder for quickly tallying votes in the legislature. However, Massachusetts lawmakers were not interested. As they explained, most legislators didn't want votes tallied quickly. They wanted time to change the minds of fellow legislators.Becoming an Inventor,In 1869, Edison moved to New York City and developed his first invention, an improved stock ticker, the Universal Stock Printer, which synchronized several stock tickers' transactions. The Gold and Stock Telegraph Company was so impressed, they paid him $40,000 for the rights. Edison was only 22 years old. With this success, he quit his work as a telegrapher to devote himself full-time to inventing.In 1870, Thomas Edison set up his first small laboratory and manufacturing facility in Newark, New Jersey, and employed several machinists. As an independent entrepreneur, Edison formed numerous partnerships and developed his products for the highest bidder. Often that was Western Union Telegraph Company, the industry leader, but just as often, it was one of Western Union's rivals. In one such instance, Edison devised for Western Union the quadruplex telegraph, capable of transmitting two signals in two different directions on the same wire, but railroad tycoon Jay Gould snatched the invention from Western Union, paying Edison more than $100,000 in cash, bonds and stock, and generating years of litigation.With his ever-increasing financial success, in 1871 Edison married 16-year-old Mary Stilwell, who was an employee at one of his businesses. During their 13-year marriage, they had three children, Marion, Thomas and William, who became an inventor. Mary died of a suspected brain tumor at the age of 29 in 1884.
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