How Thomas Edison Accelerated the Industrial Revolution

The Gilded Age of the late 19th century receives a lot of hate in history textbooks. Sure, there were rough working conditions as many people were uprooted from their farmlands to work in precarious factory environments in the big cities. But not all of this period was a complete hellscape. As Americans muddled through the Industrial Revolution, a select group of inventors put their talent to work in this period.

Born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio, Thomas Alva Edison had a humble upbringing. His family moved to Port Huron in 1854, where Edison started his schooling. As a child Edison was an inquisitive mind despite his physical limitations. Edison developed hearing problems as he entered his adolescence, which made it difficult for him to undergo traditional schooling. Nevertheless, Edison gained knowledge about technology on his own and would conduct experiments for countless hours.

Due to his family’s precarious economic situation, Edison ended his schooling in 1859 to enter a life of railroad work. No matter how intense this labor was, Edison continued educating himself and carrying out his experiments. There was nothing that could stop his creative ventures.

While the Civil War (1861–1865) raged on, Edison spent his time learning about the budding telegraphy sector and quickly became a telegrapher. Edison eventually left his work as a telegrapher in 1869 and pursued a full-time role as an inventor. In 1870, Edison moved to Newark, New Jersey. From there until 1875, Edison helped develop telegraph-related products for Western Union Telegraph Company and several of its competitors.

1877 was a big year for Edison. That year he created the carbon transmitter and phonograph. The latter gained him international renown. The American media quickly caught wind of Edison’s game-changing inventions and nicknamed him as the “Wizard of Menlo Park” for his inventive chops.

By his 30s, Edison was one of the most famous individuals on the planet. Edison was more than just an inventor. He was a highly-adept businessman and marketer who knew how to put himself and his inventions out there for the public to marvel at. Edison passed away on October 18, 1931 at the age of 84. Undoubtedly, he made the most of his time on this rock.

Edison accumulated a record 1,093 patents. He was one of the principal figures behind inventions such as the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb, and one of the earliest models of the motion picture camera. On top of that, Edison established the world’s first industrial research laboratory.

Edison embodied the rags to riches story that many Americans take pride in. His life’s work served as an inspiration to many entrepreneurs and inventors throughout the Gilded Age and played an integral role in rapidly modernizing the American economy.

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