The story of Thomas Edison, born in 1847 in Milan, Ohio, is the stuff the American dream is made of. He dropped out of school when his teacher called him “addled,” so his mother taught him at home, where he set up a chemical laboratory in his basement. Soon he was on his way to becoming the greatest inventor the world has known.
As a young man, Edison built an “invention factory” in New Jersey. It became America’s first research laboratory for industry. He amazed a group of onlookers one day when he recited “Mary Had a Little Lamb” into a device and then turned a crank to make his voice come back out. Edison had invented the phonograph, the first machine for recording sounds. On October 21, 1879, he gave the world the invention for which he is best known – the electric lightbulb.
Edison worked eighteen hours a day and never feared failure. Once, he conducted experiment after experiment without getting the results he needed, and a friend said he was sorry the tests were failing. “Shucks, we haven’t failed,” Edison said. “Now we know a thousand things that won’t work, so we’re that much closer to finding what will.”
One night in 1914 a tremendous fire destroyed his factories in West Orange, New Jersey. “We’ll build bigger and better on the ruins,” the 67-year-old inventor declared. And he did.
Thomas Edison patented more than one thousand inventions. He created new kinds of batteries, improved the telephone, invented a motion-picture machine, and helped found one of America’s most famous industries: the movies.
Throughout his long career, Edison always insisted that hard work was the main reason for his success. “Genius is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent perspiration,” he said. Americans have built a great nation by following that rule.