America First—100 Stories from Our History by Lawton B. Evans

Thomas A. Edison, the Great Inventor

[405] THE story of our great inventors would not be complete without telling about Edison, the greatest of them all. When he was a boy, he sold papers for a while on a train. On one occasion, while he was standing at a station, he saw a little child playing on the track. Just at that moment, a train came thundering along. Edison jumped on the track, in front of the moving engine, and rescued the child. The father was the telegraph operator at the station. To show his gratitude, he offered to teach telegraphy to the young newsboy.

In a few years, Edison became a swift and competent operator. He was offered employment in a Boston office. When he appeared, dressed in shabby clothes, for he was very poor, the other operators in the room made fun of him. But Edison did not care, and took his place at his desk. In a short time, an operator from New York, noted for his swiftness, called up the Boston office.

"Let the new man take the message," said the [406] chief. He desired to try out Edison, of whose ability he knew nothing.

Edison sat down, and for four hours and a half wrote the message, as it came over the wire. Not once did he ask the operator to go more slowly, but kept up with him easily. Faster and faster ticked the instrument, while Edison's fingers flew over the pages, taking down every word as it came.

The other operators gathered around in amazement to see this exhibition of speed. Edison paid no attention to them.

At the end of a long period, the operator sending the message inquired over the wire,

"Who are you taking this message?" Edison replied, "I am Thomas A. Edison, the new operator."

"You are the first man in the country," was the reply, "who could ever take me at my fastest, and the only one who could sit at the other end of my wire for more than two hours and a half. I am proud to know you."

All the time that Edison was an operator, his mind was busy on inventions and improvements. When he was seventeen, he invented the duplex telegraph, by which several messages could be sent on the same wire at the same time, even in op- [407] posite directions, without causing any confusion. This was a great saving of time.

Shortly afterwards, he went to New York, where he soon became known as an electrical expert. The first invention that brought him any considerable money was the ticker for stock-brokers' offices. This ticker was an electrical machine for recording quotations in the stock market. He was paid forty thousand dollars for this invention.

He next persuaded some men in New York to furnish the money for him to experiment in making a lamp for the electric light. They agreed to pay all his expenses, and, if it was a success, they were to share in the profits. Edison moved to Menlo Park, New Jersey, and opened a little shop and laboratory.

After awhile, he announced that he had made an electric lamp that would burn, and soon had eighty electric lights in Menlo Park. This was very promising, and everybody was greatly interested in the results. Suddenly, the lamps went out, and Edison was much discouraged, but he was not the man to give up.

For five days and nights he remained at his laboratory, sleeping only a few hours at a time. The world declared the electric lamps a failure. One prominent man said they could not be made.

[408] "I will make a statue of that man, and light it with electric lights, and put a sign on it, saying 'Here is the man that said the Edison lamp will not burn,' " was the inventor's reply.

After much hard labor, Edison discovered that the reason why his lamp would not burn was because the air had not been sufficiently exhausted from the glass bulbs. So he set about remedying the defect, after which the lamps burned brightly and lasted a long time. Now, all the world uses electric light.

Edison invented the first electric railway, and because of him the electric cars are used on the streets of nearly every city, large and small. He invented the phonograph for recording and reproducing sound. He also invented the kinetoscope, which was the beginning of the moving pictures.

Many other inventions have been made by him; so many, indeed, that he has accumulated a large fortune, and is known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park," though his laboratories are now at Orange, New Jersey.

It is quite certain that no other inventor has produced so many things that have added to the comfort and pleasure of the world as Thomas A. Edison.


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