Thomas A. Edison by Hattie E. Macomber
Thomas A. Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, February 11, 1847.
There was nothing in Milan to make a boy wish to do great deeds.
There was a canal there.
Thomas had one great help—his mother.
She had been a teacher.
Her greatest wish for her son was that he should love knowledge.
Thomas had a quick mind.
He inquired into everything.
He was fond of getting every little thing well learned.
He never did things by halves.
He loved to try experiments.
When Thomas was a very little boy, only six years old, and still
wearing dresses, he did a very funny thing.
He was one day found missing.
His frightened parents searched for him long and anxiously.
Where do you think he was found?
They found him in the barn, sitting on a nest of goose eggs, with
his dress spread out to keep them warm.
He thought he could hatch some goslings as well as the mother-goose.
He had placed some food near by so that he might stay as long as
He went to a regular school only two months.
His father and mother were his teachers.
His father, to encourage him to read, paid him for every book which
But Thomas did not need to be paid to read, for he read with
pleasure every volume he could get hold of.
When he was ten years old, he was reading such books as Gibbon's
"History of Rome," Hume's "History of England," and Sear's "History
of the World."
Besides these, he had read several books about chemistry.
He loved to read about great men and their deeds.
When he played, it was at building plank roads, digging caves, and
exploring the banks of the canal.
When only twelve years of age, he was obliged to go out into the
world and earn his own living.
He obtained a place as train-boy on the Grand Trunk Railroad, in
He sold apples, peanuts, song-books, and papers.
He had such a pleasant, sunny face that everyone liked to buy of
He succeeded so well that soon he had four boys working under him.
This was not enough to keep him busy.
He had never lost his liking for chemistry.
He managed to trade some of his papers for things with which to try
He found a book which helped him.
He fitted up an old baggage car as a room for his experiments.
He was afraid some one would touch his chemicals; so he labelled
every bottle, "Poison."
Soon this busy boy had another business.
He bought three hundred pounds of old type from the "Detroit Free
He had gained a little knowledge of printing by keeping his eyes
open when buying papers.
Soon a paper, called the "Grand Trunk Herald," was printed by Master
This paper was twelve by sixteen inches in size.
It was filled with railway gossip and many other things of interest
Baggagemen and brakemen wrote articles for it.
George Stephenson, who built a great bridge at Montreal, liked it so
well that he ordered an extra edition for his own use.
Everybody liked it.
The "London Times" spoke of it as the only paper in the world
published on a railway train.
But the "Grand Trunk Herald" had a sad ending.
Do you know what phosphorus is?
It is a substance which will take fire of itself if not kept under
Tom's bottle of phosphorus was thrown to the floor by the jolting of
Soon everything was on fire.
The conductor rushed in and threw all the type and chemicals out of
He also gave the young chemist a thrashing.
Poor Thomas gathered up what was left.
He put his things in the basement of his father's house.
Thomas's father now lived at Port Huron.
Thomas always slept at home.
He now printed another and a larger journal.
This was called the "Paul Pry."
In this he published an article which one of his subscribers did not
The angry man, meeting Thomas on the banks of the St. Clair River,
picked him up and threw him in.
Thomas was a good swimmer and reached the shore in safety.
But he did not care for the printing business any more.
During the four years in which Thomas Edison was a train-boy, he had
earned two thousand dollars and given it all to his parents.
When in Detroit, he read as much as possible from the public
Once he thought he would begin with number one and read each of the
He read until he had finished a long row of hard books on a shelf
fifteen feet long.
Then he made up his mind that anyone would have to live as long as
Methuselah to read a library through, and gave up the plan.
Thomas became interested in telegraphy during the Civil War.
He used to telegraph the headings in his paper ahead one station.
He thought this a good way to advertise.
He finally bought a good book about electricity.
Soon the basement of the house at Port Huron was filled with many
things beside printing presses.
He used stove-pipe wire, and soon had a telegraph wire between the
basement and the home of a boy friend.
Perhaps it was a good thing that all the children in the Edison
family were not like Thomas.
Had they been, the poor old house would scarcely have held them.
But the mother was proud of all that Thomas did.
She did not worry over the bottles, wires, strings, and printing
About this time Thomas did a brave thing.
The station agent at Mt. Clemens had a baby boy two years old.
This baby crept on to the track in front of a train just coming in.
Quick as thought, young Edison rushed to the track and saved the
child at the risk of his own life.
The baby's father was very grateful and offered to teach Thomas
Of course, Thomas was very happy, and accepted the offer.
He came to Mt. Clemens every evening, after working hard all day.
He did so well that, in five months, he was given a position at Port
He earned six and one-quarter dollars a week.
He worked almost night and day, so that he might learn all he could
His mother said that the world would hear from her boy some day.
Afterwards he worked in several places.
In Indianapolis, though not yet seventeen, he invented his first
This was thought to be a great thing for so young a boy to do.
He lost several places because he tried new ways.
At last, he was obliged to walk nearly all the way to Louisville
because he had no money.
Here he was given a good position.
He stayed several years.
Under the telegraph rooms was an elegant bank.
One day, while experimenting, he spilled a great bottle of acid.
This acid went through the floor into the bank below.
Of course it spoiled the ceiling, handsome carpets, and furniture.
So the unfortunate inventor had to leave Louisville.
He finally gave up trying to be a telegraph operator.
He opened a little shop.
He invented many things, and kept on thinking.
He could not make his inventions successful, for he had little
He thought so hard that he forgot everything else.
Once he was asked to speak before a company.
He forgot all about it.
They sent for him, and found him at the top of a house putting up a
He went in his working clothes to make his speech.
He felt queer when he found a room full of elegant ladies.
But he made a good speech.
Then he went to New York.
There he walked the streets three weeks, looking for work.
Nobody wanted a man who experimented.
By chance, he one day went into an office where the telegraph
instrument was out of repair.
He offered to fix it.
They laughed at him, but let him try.
He succeeded in fixing it.
They gave him a good position.
From this time on there were better times for him.
After this the world soon sang his praises; and, in the next ten
years, Fortune poured into his lap half a million dollars.
This was the result of his thinking.
The man who was in charge of the United States Patent Office called
him "the young man who keeps the pathway to the Patent Office hot
with his footsteps."
Mr. Edison believed that two messages could be sent over the same
wire at the same time.
Of course the world laughed at the idea.
But soon our inventor managed to send four messages over the same
wire at the same time.
Then the world stopped laughing.
People said, "This young man is the greatest inventor of his age,
and a discoverer as well."
The Grand Trunk train-boy had proved a genius.
When twenty-six years of age, he married a young lady of Newark,
Miss Mary Stillwell.
Three years later he moved to Menlo Park.
This was twenty-four miles from New York.
It was not a pleasant place, but he hoped to work there in quiet.
He had so many visitors that he could not work.
He said, "I think I shall fix a wire to my gate, and connect it with
a battery so that it will knock everybody over that touches it."
But he was really kind.
He would smile pleasantly, and explain patiently to anyone who
wished to know about his inventions.
At Menlo Park he built a great laboratory.
This was filled with batteries and machinery.
Here all the world came to see his wonderful talking machine.
It is called a phonograph.
What do you think Mr. Edison called this machine?
He said, "I have invented a great many machines, but this is my
baby, and I expect it to grow up and support me in my old age."
Would you like to know the names of some of his inventions.
One is the carbon telephone.
The tasimeter measures the heat even of the far away stars.
The electric pen multiplies copies of letters and drawings.
Over sixty thousand are now in use in this country.
The automatic telegraph permits the sending of several thousand
words over the same wire in one minute.
There are many others.
Do you wonder that he is called "The Wizard of Menlo Park?"
But his crowning discovery is the electric light.
Some gentlemen of New York put one hundred thousand dollars into Mr.
They told him to experiment until he could make a light which every
one would be glad to use.
Many had tried to do this and had not succeeded.
It is said that he tried two thousand substances for the arch in his
glass globe before he found one which suited him.
Do you know what he chose at last?
Do you remember the plant which the boys and girls of India, China,
and Japan know so well?
It is the bamboo.
And it was bamboo which Mr. Edison chose.
Oh, how glad this light made many people!
In ten cotton factories in one town were men, women, and children
They worked in rooms where gas was used.
The gas injured their eyes and health.
Now in those same factories there are sixty thousand electric
The bamboo burns six hundred hours before it has to be replaced.
Would you like a picture of Mr. Edison?
Close your eyes then and think of him like this.
He is five feet ten inches high.
His face is boyish, but earnest.
He has light gray eyes.
His hair is dark, slightly gray, and falls over his forehead.
He is a pleasant man to see.
He loves his work.
For ten years he has averaged eighteen hour's work a day.
You have seen that he is not a man to give up easily.
Once an invention of his—a printing press—failed.
He took five men into the upper part of his factory.
He declared he would never come down until it worked satisfactorily.
For two days and nights, and for twelve hours more, he worked
He conquered the difficulty.
Then he slept thirty hours.
He often works all night.
He says he can work best when the rest of the world sleeps.
But he likes fun, too.
One day he said to his old friend, of whom he learned telegraphing,
"Look here—I am able to send a message from New York to Boston
without any wire at all."
"That is impossible," said his friend.
"Oh, no, it's a new invention."
"Well, how is it done?" said Mr. McKensie.
"By sealing it up and sending by mail," was the comical answer.
He has two children.
One, a girl, Mary, is nicknamed "Dot."
The other, a son, Thomas, is called "Dash."
Mr. Edison doesn't like to have great dinners given in his honor.
But the world gives him great honors.
At the Paris Exposition in 1881, two great rooms were filled with
The rooms were lighted with his lights.
He receives letters daily in French, German, Italian, Spanish,
Russian, and Turkish.
Mr. Edison says, "Anything is possible with electricity."
That he is a genius, nobody can deny.
But do you suppose he could have done all these things without his
great reading, or if he had been a lazy person?